Parents’ comment on ‘Sound of Music’

It was wonderful watching the Annual show of Std. V on Thursday, 25th Oct. We were really amazed with their confidence, vibrancy and energy during the show. The efforts and hard work put by all the teachers and other staff members were quite visible. The minutest details were worked upon to put up together the best show we have ever watched. It was really very well staged with perfect coordination of live chorus singing and orchestra.

We would also like to add that it was not only the theatrical nuances that the students were exposed to during the past one month of Annual day process, they were also informed about the history during the time of the story. They also learned team work and coordination.

We also appreciate the democratic process of selecting various cast of the play and giving equal importance to each and every child. All the 108 students were equally involved in staging the final show which was certainly not easy.

Congratulations to the team and thank you once again.

Deepti and Aashish Sanghi
(Parents of Ishitaa Sanghi, Student of Std. V)

TetraPak Campaigners of Shishuvan

“Excuse me, do you use TetraPaks?” Blank look. “You know… Frooti, Real, Milk. Do you use TetraPaks while cooking?” “Yes, sometimes.” “After you’ve finished using them, can you please donate the empty ones to Shishuvan school? We send them for recycling to Vapi where they are made into furniture and books.” “Wow, sure I’ll send them to Shishuvan.” “Do you know where our school is located?” “Yes, I do.” ” Thanks! Have a good day!”

This was a typical conversation when Shishuvan’s TetraPak campaigners went out to different parts of Matunga, asking for donations of used TetraPaks. Campaigners from Std VIII conducted a mini-rally (a bigger version will follow in the month of December), targeting a few neighbourhoods in Matunga. Campaigners from Std IX and X also joined in.

Std VIII had created a Papier-mâché Ganapati for the rally. They tried their best to use minimal resources, and reused plastic bottles for decoration. They got help from Gitesh, the art teacher and viola! The recycled Ganapati was ready! They created a palkhi (palanquin) to carry the idol on.

Everyone gathered the rally props – lezims, flags, drum, cymbals, cameras and the palkhi; and assembled in near the gate. With a loud ‘Ganapati bappa morya’, out they went. The lezim players were in the front in two columns, followed by the palkhi bearers. The rest of the campaigners took the rear (they were a little shy). The path was somewhat decided: To Maheshwari Udyan, then to market and right up to Ruia college.

Std VI performed a street play on saving water resources and wildlife twice. They didn’t get much response the first time. The second time, however, they performed in front of a Ganesh pandal and not only had a bigger audience but also a bigger applause.

The campaigners knew they had done a good job, when people stopped to look and complemented them on reusing materials. A beggar girl wanted to give money to the ‘idol’ and when refused, placed a marigold flower instead. A shopkeeper wanted to offer money too, but the campaigners informed him that they needed plastic bottles and used TetraPaks. The palkhi was heavy due to the thick bamboo sticks, but the campaigners were happy to take turns to share the ‘burden’.

Then the campaigners began having conversations with people near the market and colleges. They were careful to be quieter (no lezims, drums or slogans) near the colleges so as not to disturb the students inside. One memorable moment was when a gentleman stepped up and gave his card titled ‘A concerned citizen’ and offered support. There were many opportunities to learn with scope for improvement which the campaigners wrote down in their ‘What Went Well (WWW)’ and ‘Even Better If (EBI)’ experiences.

Pulling off the rally was no mean task – there were many hurdles and time constraints. Their passion to do something for the environment, kept them going.

They plan another rally soon and hope to reach out to more people in Matunga educating them on the importance of recycling and reusing materials like PET bottles and TetraPaks. We wish them great success!

Keep abreast of the activities of Shishuvan TetraPak Campaign on Facebook here.

An email exchange with Fumiko, Director of the Tokyo Holocaust Center

On their Annual day, Std VI performed ‘Hana’s suitcase’ about Hana, a 13-year old Jewish girl who was a victim of the holocaust. Vimala Subramaniam who teaches Std VI, corresponded with Fumiko Ishioka, Director of the Tokyo Holocaust Center, who got Hana’s suitcase on loan from the Auschwitz museum to tell the story of the Holocaust to children. To view some pictures from the play, click a related post here (will open a new window). Here we share their email exchange:

Vimala found Fumiko on Facebook and sent her a friend request. Vimala was ecstatic to receive a response:

Hello, Vimmi,
Did you find me through Hana’s suitcase?
Thank you for the friend request.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Hana’s suitcase is now traveling to share the story with many more students. Here we publish updates! : )

http://www.facebook.com/npo.therc

***********

The correspondence continued as you will see below:

Hello Fumiko,
I am teaching in Shishuvan High school in Mumbai, India. We staged the play on Hana in Oct for our school annual day. It was well received. We really appreciate the work you have put in to spread Hana’s story all over the world.Pl send me your mail i.d .And do write about yourself too.
Love Vimmi

***********
Thank you Vimmi for your reply. How wonderful to hear that you did a play on the story of Hana!

Vimmi, I have a favor to ask of you. If you have, could you share with me any pictures of your students on that school annual day? (What is annual day, by the way? Is it like a festival day?)

I would very much like to share your experience with others students both in Japan and elsewhere in the world. I am sure your experience will inspire other students and encourage them to learn more.

If you don’t have the picture, a class photograph will be great too.

I look forward to hearing from you again. Please send my very best wishes to your students.

***********

Dear Fumiko,

Thanks a lot for your prompt reply. I shall definitely send you the video link and the photos of the play on Hana. Right now, my school is closed for Diwali holidays. (Diwali is a festival of lights celebrated all over India on the 12th of Nov).

Annual Day comes every year in all the schools in which the students put up plays, songs and dances for the parents. In Shishuvan(the school where I teach) each and every student gets the chance to come up on stage and showcase their talents. We staged Hana’s suitcase with 79 6th graders. If you go on our website www.shishuvan.com, you will get a clearer picture of our school.

The director of our play Sudeep was thrilled to hear from you and he has done a fantastic job of directing the play, which you will be able to see when I send you the link.

One very important thing dear Fumiko — I had mailed Lara Hana Brady asking her about Hana’s brother George,but didn’t get her reply. Could you please enlighten me about him.

Do tell me more about yourself, your family et al. My children in school will be absolutely delighted to know that I am in touch with you..

Warmest regards
Vimmi

***********

Dear Vimmi,

How wonderful to hear that the story of Hana reached out to you and your students in India!
Who would have imagined that when this one suitcase arrived at my tiny education center back in 2000. I can’t wait to see pictures of your wonderful students.

George Brady is a true hero for me.
Finding all about Hana brought us mixed emotions.
The thought of 13-year-old Hana being sent to Auschwitz all alone was heartbreaking, but when we thought about the pain George must have had after losing such a sweet little sister it was even more devastating.
But it was not the end of the story.
In spite of what he went through, George never gave up and decided to live for the future.
He has now built such beautiful family in Canada.
Thanks to his courage to share with us his most difficult memories, we now all learn about Hana and through Hana we learn the lessons of the history.

Hana’s suitcase now travels all over Japan. We have been to schools in Canada, Mexico, Germany, and South Africa and many other places. Here you can see our past journey.
http://tokyoholocaustcenter.blogspot.com/

I am assuming your students read Hana’s Suitcase in English…?
The book is also translated into Marathi.

The reason why I’d love pictures of your students is because I would of course like to share it on our website, but also I was thinking I could add it to this special photo album I’m (secretly) preparing for George for his 85th birthday next year.

I am looking forward to hearing back from you.

All the best,
Fumiko

Au Revoir

By Shubadra Shenoy

(Shubadra is the vibrant High School HOD whose cabin is almost always filled with students and laughter. She wrote this poem for the first batch of tenth graders that passed out of Shishuvan last year. She dug this out of her inbox to revisit some happy memories with the students we fondly call our alumni.)

We animated our life through Flash
Integrated the environment with  all sciences.
I  learned alongside to be a good leader.
Together we made the best readers.

Our walk of Chandni  Chowk and sumptuous parathas
Cannot forget the show at Red Fort and the Sufi dargahs.
Lol to the breathtaking view of the Taj
Singing and dancing in the Jaipur Raj.

As  an united force we explored the beauty of Ranchi
How sad, we left behind Prachi!
The spectacular aerial view of the mine can never leave our hearts
And the homes of those girls – we loved every part.

Innovation to the highest saw every Project Day
Fun and frolic did not miss any Fair day
From Ekanki to Shakespeare at its best
Every Annual Day, You were better than the rest.

Find me if you can: Shubadra

You stood by me in all ups and downs.
Smiling and shining after every knockdown.
Encroaching on my room whenever you may
I will miss the noise and your voice everyday.

As we come together to the final test of this journey
I only pray god to bless you with the 3 Rs
This is to you, our first class X,
Success, belief and support every hour.

All the very best to each of you here. God bless!

Sammy – the play that made me look within

By Gerish Khemani

(Gerish describes himself as a hungry theatre practitioner who is in quest of self-fulfillment through stage, which to him is a familiar parallel universe. He has directed some magnificent and memorable plays for Shishuvan — Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Charandas Chor and The Wizard of Oz. The latest in the series was Sammy! The word that broke an empire, a play woven around Gandhi and other key historical personalities of the Indian freedom struggle. Here he recounts his process.)

Sammy! The word that broke an empire. It was a lengthy play by Partap Sharma that I had studied during my post-graduation. It seemed unlike any of my readings on Gandhi. I had to read it twice, if my memory serves me right, to understand what made this text so special. It was largely a conversation between Gandhi and the embodiment of his conscience, interspersed with historical episodes. It was beautiful. A narrative of over 50 years of life compressed in the span of 3 hours. The public and the internal life of Gandhi.  Action and Reaction between Gandhi and the world outside, action and reaction between Gandhi and his inner self. The process from becoming Mohan to Mahatma.

The main drama lay within. Like it lies within all of us. The perpetual battle between us and our conscience. The more conscientious the individual, the more intense the dramatic tension.

What makes Gandhi and perhaps all the great people so distinct from the rest of mankind perhaps is their self-reflexivity, this tendency to ceaselessly self-examine, to probe into the innermost recesses of their own consciousness, to perpetually wrestle with their own conscience. And doing Sammy would be a perfect way to get to know Gandhi, less verbose than the autobiography, and yet so true to the essence of that confessional narrative and connected to the larger narrative of political independence.


Class 10 brainstorming session

So how come Sammy and the Shishuvan Class 10 Annual day? How do the two fit together? Well, only a Shishuvan student could connect the two. Reflecting on the many possibilities for the Annual Day in the High School H.O.D room, Vardhan, the Shishuvan alumnus suggested a topic from the history curriculum. Nothing could be more pragmatic we thought. And instantly Gandhi came to mind. More because Gandhi seems to be ever-present in the Shishuvan consciousness and his practical ideas of self-sustenance, community, dialogue, and inter-religious tolerance find manifestation in the varied events and regular forums of the school. So what better way to bid farewell to this outgoing batch than to do a play on this most revered and debated national icon?  Moreover, this batch was special to me, as it was through them that I had begun my journey in education three years ago. The first bunch of students I had ever interacted with. And this could be just the perfect gift. A provocative one, no doubt!


Screen printed invitations for parents

They were 12 then. I was less certain of things then. And now they were a healthy, mentally vigorous 15.  I was less uncertain now. They were on the brink of an important transition. I was on the threshold of embarking on an epic narrative. It was a risk, both personal and artistic.

And so the process began. Readings and reflections on the abridged autobiography, discussion on celibacy and Gandhi’s overarching principle of self-restraint, his fundamental principal of internal swaraj connected to external swaraj, viewing the masterful cinematic biopic, Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, simultaneous history lessons in class, auditions, segregation into direction, music, costume, lights departments and finally rehearsals.


Kasturba playfully taunts Mohan

8 to 10 assistants took care of the actor’s lines, their meanings, objectives; some helped me block the scenes; some helped the actors understand the nuanced feelings of the character and the relationship with the other characters; some took care of my conscience.


Std 10 crew prepping the lights

Being a play on Gandhi, the stage design was kept minimal. Three wooden platforms defined three spaces. Transactions between Gandhi and his friends and family largely took place on stage right; the centre one largely looked to emphasize the conscience, the heated and at times comforting interactions between Mohan and Mahatma; and the platform on the side of the audience right was inhabited by the mighty representatives of the Empire, a space which could not be violated, without personal risk.


Class rehearsals

Four Gandhis representing different phases of Gandhi’s life were chosen, each lending his own unique self to Gandhi’s maturing ideas and temperament at that evolutionary phase. The actors had to learn so much, internalize so much and then convincingly play it off against each other, which they did with rehearsed ease and dignity. The other departments constantly inspired by the teachers at hand successfully delivered the goods, adding a nostalgic charm, spiritual feel and musical vitality to the unfolding narrative.


Music team are a go!

Kudos to the students who managed the props at such a short notice. Kudos to the musicians who remembered to come in at the right moments in the play with their many songs and complicated and intense background score. Kudos to the students’ lights team who designed and operated the lights, creating the perfect atmosphere for the play. Kudos to the actors who accomplished so much in such a short time. Kudos to the assistants without whose creative inputs, work with the individual actors and on individual scenes the play wouldn’t have been what it turned out to be. Kudos to the costumes team for getting the wardrobe of historical characters perfectly right or in some cases, perfectly approximate. Kudos to the students whose contribution was minimal but a sense of teamwork commendable. Kudos to the teachers for making it all happen and making it all come together. Kudos to Shishuvan and Shubadra for permitting this violation of performance time. At 2 hours, this was unprecedented in the history of Shishuvan Annual Day plays.


A solemn Brit officer

In the post-annual day reflection, one of the student-actors shared how he had to come to understand Gandhi better, and had shed his initial discomfort regarding this controversial public figure; this indeed among other reflections was one of the most successful takeaways for me. Engaging discussions with teachers on the impossibly high ideals of Gandhi and its ramifications on his dear ones, his treatment of his wife initially which evolved into a more mutually-respectable one was what made the process so internally enriching. Sammy was just the most suitable text in making some of us transcend our often simplistic notions on Gandhi, which usually oscillate between blind reverence on one extreme and unthinking dislike for his ‘effeminate’ non-violence on the other. This play showed Mohan struggling through all human frailties, philosophical confusion, to attain truth, which made him more relatable and surely would inspire us in our own quests for truth.


A clichéd image, yet poignant

It’s been a truly fulfilling journey for me as an artist, educator and a human being. It was a special gift to this outgoing batch. Also a homage of a kind to a school that has profoundly altered me and many others.


Mohan and Mahatma

P.S.: ‘Sammy’ was what the indentured south Indian labourers (swamis) were derisively addressed as by the imperialists or the local white population. In the play, Gandhi was also slapped at and referred to as a Sammy, which means swami, which means a teacher, a teacher who lived up to the ideal of non-violent resistance through love.

(Photographs courtesy Harshil Vora and Jai Sonwalkar)

Recycle, Reuse, Reduce, Refuse

(Jai Sonwalkar has been trying to understand the nature of humans towards the materials they use. Though she is not a hundred years old (yet), she has heard and read about how close humans were to nature once upon a time. Is a connection to nature only restricted to visiting national parks and sanctuaries? Do we respect our surroundings and environment? Do we even care now? Here she writes a letter to some long-lost friends who helped us connect to earth and fellow living (and non-living) things.)

Dear Recycle, Reuse, Reduce, Refuse, Bio-degradable and Eco-friendly,

Wish you were being practised by more people! Before we even knew you existed, you were being practised in India and now that we know you exist, it’s becoming more difficult to practise!

Let me show you how a typical household in India would deal with resources ages ago:

rooster

Wake up early morn: Save batteries and use a real fowl to sound the alarm with its cock-a-doodle-doo! On time, every time? You bet! Left-over grains were all the batteries they needed!

Personal Hygiene: Brush your teeth with ‘datoon’ – essentially a twig from a Neem tree or Bael tree or Khair tree. Total dental protection all day long! No detergent chemicals released when spat out.

Bathing and washing clothes: Fruits like Shikakai and soapnut (Ritha) were used to not only bathe but also to wash clothes.

Cooking: While firewood was burnt to provide the fire for cooking, the ashes left behind were sometimes used to scrub metal cooking utensils. Bio-degradable plates and bowls made of Palash leaves stitched together using straw or banana leaves were perfect to have the meals on. The used plates and bowls were fodder for cows and goats. (I suspect modern Indians never grew out of this habit, hence you see them throw every plastic wrapper on the ground. Pray that no cow or goat eat these!) The stirrers were often made of scraped coconut shell halves fitted with wooden handles. The brown coconut hair would also double up as scrubbers.

Of course, every part of the coconut tree and even the neem tree was used. Coir ropes, mats and roofs woven from leaves were widely used in many parts.

I’m sure the readers will be able to add to this list of bio-degradable and eco-friendly resources.

Let us now come a little closer to the present day, say 20 years ago. When we started getting milk in milk packets, mothers would take the empty packets, wash them and use them as tiffin covers. Every kind of plastic was reused to keep liquids or oils oozing out of containers. The flimsy polythene bags would be woven into mats. Old trousers would be sewn into bags, complete with pockets to keep the change.

Plastic bottles would store excess oils. Glass bottles that once stored jams were cleaned, sterilized and used to store home-made pickles. Reuse, you’d be delighted at how many things were reused! Torn plastic raincoats were often sewn and new ones were purchased only if we outgrew the old ones. Likewise with rain-proof footwear. Things were mended and seldom thrown. Electronic appliances would last for years, and wouldn’t need repairing.

Then began the assault of the ‘Use and throw’ culture.

You want chips? Get them in a non-recyclable, non-reusable, non-anything-doable-everything-throwable package. Packaged water comes in a tamper-proof, non-recyclable bottle. Aluminum foils and plastic wraps can’t be reused. Do styrofoam plates, bowls and cups save water that would have been otherwise used to wash metal dishes? Or do they form an impenetrable layer on the soil for millions of years on which perhaps nothing can grow?

When plastic was manufactured, due to its durability, it was used to replace paper packaging. So, plastic could save trees. Yes, you read it right. Earlier, paper was used for everything – as a bag, a cover to wrap… It would, however, degrade very easily in water, tear easily too. So a lot of paper was wasted, and many trees cut to make more paper. Plastic was a reusable waterproof material that could wrap, cover, contain everything from dry to wet. This would save trees from being cut.

We humans have the uncanny ability to come up with ideas to save nature, yet it is we who often end up abusing the saviour material plastic and harming nature. Instead of reusing plastic, we kept throwing in the most incorrect places and chose to be ignorant about its ill-effects. We never thought of what to do with worn and torn and used up plastic. Recycling of plastic was not kept in mind.

We have lost a sense of you, dear eco-friendly and bio-degradable! We have abused and continue abusing a reusable material like plastic. We are not using you o’ Recycle, Reuse and Reduce. Refuse, we do not even acknowledge you! Just imagine, everytime we refuse to eat at eateries serving in non-recyclable utensils, how much it would help? Or refusing plastic bags when shopkeepers hand one out to us…

I still have hope… there are a bunch of students at Shishuvan school who are discovering/practicing some or all of you. It takes patience, some extra efforts too. One bit at a time, we will get to it.

Till next time, adios!

Coming up: Plastic kills / eco-friendly options / tough choices

(All images courtesy google. I do not own the rights to any of them! I guess I am reusing them?)

Talking about love with eighth graders

By Kabita Parajuli

(In August 2012, Kabita from Kathmandu co-facilitated two sessions at Shishuvan as part of her work with the Hri Institute for Southasian Research and Exchange. The school welcomed her presence and was happy to support Hri’s efforts in developing a framework for facilitated conversations around the topics of transgression and taboo in our personal lives, particularly around friendships and other relationships.)

How do we talk about love? About longing? About taboo and transgression? As part of our work on documenting and analysing the love legends of Punjab, we began to explore these fascinating questions. The starting point for these conversations were the prominent love legends of Punjab – Sohni Mahiwal and Mirza-Sahiban. We experimented with some of these ideas during workshops with students in Mumbai. Two of these were at Shishuvan School, Matunga.

Our workshops at Shishuvan were held as part of the Personal Development (PD) classes scheduled for eighth graders. PD sessions typically involve games, activities and conversations around themes that are of interest to the students. Chintan is their regular PD teacher, and from him, I learnt that ‘love’ and ‘relationships’ were topics that his teenage students would be interested in talking about.

We did two sessions in total, of about 36 students each (Std. VIII Shraddha and Std. VIII Karma), and I felt that they went very well. I was basically smitten by this group of rambunctious, somewhat incorrigible, and incredibly friendly group of eighth graders. I think the main reason for the outcome was the rapport Chintan already had with the students, and their willingness to trust an outsider that he had brought in.

We started by asking if they knew what the ‘class’ that day was about.  “Love!” came the quick response, the rumour mill at this school being fast, furious and  welcoming of class content for fodder. Most of the students seemed eager to find out what we were going to bring up, in the name of love. One or two expressed some apprehension – would this be a session of clichés? Was it really necessary to be there?

Here, Kailash Kher and ‘Teri Deewani’ appeared to be a favourite of many; nearly the whole class was singing along, some with their eyes closed, fully in the moment. They talked about his representation of love as something that was common in films (and perhaps stories) – but not necessarily one that many of them connected with in terms of physical danger. The idea of madness, risk, and falling into an abyss of emotion, however, was one that seemed to resonate.

When it came time to share the story of Sohni Mahiwal, the students were ready with both questions and explanations around the behavior of the main characters, especially Sohni. The second group was more rambunctious. To my immense shock, when I started telling the story, a quiet came over the class – they had settled! The circle became smaller in size as they moved closer to me. I started feeling like the Pied Piper, but I kept talking.

Both classes were eager to talk about the story, to try to connect it to others they had heard, and to explore the questions we raised.

How did you feel while hearing this story?

What do you think about what happened? Is it relevant?

Why did Sohni cross the river?

Why weren’t the two allowed to be together? Have you heard such stories in real life, or other places, of people who weren’t allowed to be together?

Who are you encouraged to be friends with, by your parents or friends?

Have you ever done something that you only found out, afterwards, you weren’t supposed to? What happened?

Why didn’t Sohni say no to the marriage?

Why is love thought of as dangerous?

I was impressed by the connections they drew between social pressures and the actions that Sohni chose to undertake. Some recalled the stories of Heer-Ranjha, Salim-Anarkali and even Veer-Zaara (from a Yash Chopra film). Others talked about an episode on honour killings from Aamir Khan’s talk show Satyamev Jayate. In retrospect, it would also be worthwhile to try and focus more attention on Mahiwal – it seems to me that while Sohni justifiably receives a great deal of attention for her actions and decisions in the legend, Mahiwal often fades into the background. We talked in this session about why Sohni didn’t refuse to marry her husband, for example, and why perhaps she went ahead and crossed the river. But we do not ask about Mahiwal’s decision to stay back from his crew of traders, why he encouraged Sohni to commit adultery, or what he represents. A couple of the students did raise the question of pressures he might have faced – and suggested that as an outsider, perhaps he was not subject to the same constraints as Sohni.

After both sessions, there were a number of students who wanted to keep talking. “How do you define love?” one set of young women asked me. Others were eager to take me into some sort of confidence, sharing a time when they “did something they later regretted”, and connecting it to the story of the star-crossed lovers. One student suggested that she’d gotten carried away – against the better advice of her friends, she’d made a decision that she (unlike Sohni) had time to regret. Another student asked if there were other legends like this one (he was certain there were), and wanted me to tell Mirza-Sahiban’s story. There was a general consensus that the themes in these stories were pervasive in Bollywood; the idea of a ‘forbidden’ something or someone created the basis for a good many plotlines.

To Chintan, later on, a student brought up something he had read about sexuality and bullying. Two other young men came up to me and explained why they thought it was important to talk about love, as more than just romantic – but also more than just familial. To hear this group so willing to engage, so eager to share, and so open to expressing their ideas, was invigorating. These sessions were full of the stuff of eighth grade experience, philosophising, and concerns.

In the teacher’s lounge after our sessions, Chintan’s colleagues were curious to hear how our classes had gone. They were, I think, impressed – but also perhaps used to? – the commitment shown by the students in exploring ideas of love, and in bringing in their personal experiences. Often, I think, those of us past middle school (even those who regularly interact with middle school and high school students) forget about the different layers of emotion and thought swirling in a young person’s mind. It’s heady stuff (no pun intended) – but these same individuals can also be very eloquent and clear about what it is they believe, and how it is that they’ve come to a particular understanding.

The biggest take-away from these workshops was the reminder that young teens are not too young to talk about these love legends and what is socially sanctioned and prohibited. The issue is more one of how the material is presented, and how young people are invited to respond to it.

Note: A version of this article was first published on http://www.hrisouthasian.org/ on Nov. 11, 2012. To know more about the Love Legends project, do visit the Hri website.

Nature So Bizarre – 2

In ‘Nature So Bizarre’, our new series on Biodiversity, Katie Bagli introduces us to the wonderful world of flora and fauna – believing that the more we know them the more we’d want to protect them. Here is the second post in this series.

(Katie has many hats that she dons at various times. When she is not leading nature trails as a BNHS Volunteer (since 9 years), she is reading books (authored and illustrated by her) to children at major book stores. She is also one of the founders of the NGO ‘Save Rani Baugh’ where she has gathered many supporters to save many precious trees from being axed in the name of re-development. She loves children and is always ready to visit Shishuvan as a resource person, author and nature lover.)

A Butcher by Nature

The Shrike bird is identified by the black band that runs over its eyes across its face, giving it a bandit-like appearance.

The favourite trees of shrikes are those that bear spines such as the Asan tree. Being a carnivorous bird, it swoops to the ground from its perch to carry off locusts, dragonflies, lizards, mice, etc. It hunts for even more than required to satisfy its immediate hunger and impales the rest on the spines of the tree as a reserve for its future needs. Thus it is popularly known as a ‘butcher bird’.

Even Earthworms can see and hear

Believe it or not, the humble earthworm, though it does not have any recognisable ears and eyes, it does have some simple light sensitive organs in its first two body segments and it can detect sound vibrations too. It needs to leave its burrow and come to the earth’s surface to mate and it ‘sees’ the light above. It needs to ‘hear’ the pattering of rain as that is the time the soil gets wet and easier to dig through.

However, you may come across a gull in a field performing a river-dance jig. If you do, you can rest assured that the clever bird is tapping away to imitate the pattering of rainfall to trick the earthworm in its burrow underground so that it surfaces and provides an easy meal for the bird!

Not such hard nuts to crack after all

Crows are known to be intelligent birds but the crows in Japan have shown themselves to be super-intelligent. They collect nuts from the walnut trees that line the streets and then placed them along the road where the traffic halts at the signals. Eventually the Hondas and Mitsubishis run over the nuts cracking them. At the following signal, when the cars stop once again, they descend onto the road to make a meal of the fragments of nuts.

Mum knows best

A female butterfly who needs to lay eggs can identify the very plant which will serve as food for the caterpillars that hatch from her eggs. Thus butterflies are expert botanists. How do they identify the correct food plant? By tasting the plant with their legs which have special receptor cells. Each species of butterfly has a different food plant. Probably this was one of nature’s scheme of things to avoid competition amongst the caterpillars.

Theirs is the shortest lifespan

Adult mayflies live for only a few hours. As young nymphs, they spend months underwater feeding on algae. But once they emerge in their hundreds out of the water as adults, their sole role seems to be that of mating in the air. They do not have any mouth parts to feed. Thus they seek out their partner of the opposite sex. After they have fulfilled their role, the males die while the females first lay their eggs after which they succumb to their fate. During this mass emergence of the adults which takes place in summer, many of the mayflies end up as food for predators like frogs, birds and other insects.