08 July 2011

The Other Side

Currently, it's like I've pressed pause in my life. The responsibilities and pressures of student life in Cape Town are so far away when I'm on holiday and at home in India. It's refreshing having time to read books for a change, to draw and start new paintings, to watch TV (reunited with Animal Planet and Nat Geo!!), to undertake admin projects backing up data, downloading and whatnot, and also quite simply, time to think/reflect, although perhaps a little too much at times. That said, this much spare time can also make life a little boring, everything comes to a stand still and I end up with an unhealthy sleep cycle. Unhealthy being an understatement. I'm officially nocturnal. This means there isn't much excitement to write about....but since when did that ever stop me from rambling. This one's got very little to do with anything but I just feel like writing :)

The majority of excitement in my life is coming from the books I'm reading. My sister says all I read is non-fiction nature books and that I need an "intellectual awakening", so along with my stack of nature books to finish, I've got a bunch of her recommendations too. I finished Essays in Love by Alain de Botton and The Fall by Albert Camus and loved them both, now I'm busy with A.C. Grayling's Meaning of Things. All very deep philosophical stuff but it's very appropriate for my life at present. Learning lots! But after this I really must resume with Jane Goodall. And Dawkins. And Lovelock  :S

The other bits of excitement have been coming from birds. For one I'm busy with two paintings, one of a keel-billed toucan and another of a peregrine falcon, but both are serious work in progress. Also, I've been having some amazing encounters with the birds of urban and rural India. To start with, last week, the ACs were being serviced and we found a myna's nest on top of one of them, with three little chicks in it. By then we'd done enough damage so I caught them and put them in a box and made them mine for some 24 hours. Quite stressful actually. At first I thought the one had a broken wing, two death scares, panic about what to feed them and something called "aspiration" which is when liquid gets into their lungs if you feed them the wrong way, imprinting - all very nerve-racking. But of course it was all unnecessary worrying because they'd all vanished by the time I woke up the next morning. I could've sworn they, or at least two of them, were way too young to fly but one by one they left. Just as I'd spent the night finding myna calls to play to them so they don't imprint and learn to sing :S Anyway, I'm glad they found their parents. One of them has been mysteriously sighted by my mom a couple of times on the balcony. Since I only sleep at 6-7am these days, I go out and look for them at sunrise. It's become my routine actually - a bit of bird watching on the balcony, then sleep :) It's lovely being awake at sunrise, not only is it a beautiful time of day, but the birds outside are at their busiest. And Delhi's birdlife is quite impressive at times, the last thing you'd expect of a city like this. A few weeks ago I saw a Grey Hornbill. Then the other morning when I was looking for my mynas I saw a couple of male peacocks on the roof opposite me, sizing each other up and going at each other, in full display - amazing. Plus there's the usual Pariah Kites, parakeets, lapwings that you see which never grow old. And of course I saw my myna family, with my little ones getting flight and singing lessons :)

Ah I must also mention the documentary my sister and I were watching before the myna nest was discovered! Great Rift - Africa's Wild Heart - a 3-part series about the diversity of the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. I'm still busy with it but it's a must see! The different landscapes are amazing, and there are so many little acknowledged wonders of the Valley. Ethiopian wolves, gelada baboons, lammergeiers, amazing underlying tectonics, the Olduvai Gorge, mountain gorillas - what an amazing place. Got me thinking about this running Africa vs. India debate I have with Nick. Fine, I surrender, as far as nature goes, Africa wins by far. But oh well, it's my second home so I'm not too bothered :)

But that's digression. More bird fun came yesterday on our train ride from Delhi to Amritsar. There are few things I enjoy more than birding on long car/train journeys. It's something I loved most whenever we went on family trips in South Africa. Everyone in the car is talking or quiet and listening to music and I'll randomly be like "oh my god, gymnogene!", "black-shouldered kite!", "kingfisher!". Fun times :) But it's amazing how bird life changes so drastically as soon as you're away from the city, especially in India. Sitting on this train, there are miles of farmland in between towns and you see the coolest things. All of which I've noted down and will identify once I'm back in Delhi with my book :) One thing you can never go wrong with is phonelines - you're almost guaranteed to spot something special perched on them if you look for it. That said, the journey was also depressing. The amount of poverty you see is horrifying. The only thing that matches it is the amount of pollution. Mounds of rubbish everywhere, Delhi's black putrid Yamuna river. The city can hold all the greenathons it likes, but it's going to take more than these events to clean up our city's river. And Punjab, a state named for its five rivers, Disgusting. But I'll save my love-hate India post for another time :)

I'll leave you with the image for this post - Helicoprion, an ancient shark-like fish from the Triassic which I only heard of in May on a visit to the Iziko museum in Cape Town where they had this strange fossil. Of course, since sharks are cartilaginous, the teeth are the only parts that fossilize. Lord knows where exactly on the mouth they were placed or how they worked, but that odd spiral thing in the picture shows the teeth of the shark's lower jaw. Bizarre. One theory is that it helped them specialise in preying on ammonites and breaking their shells. If that's the case, then what a beautiful display of evolution :)

And in looking for this image, I'm quite happy I found a cool biology blog to follow on blogger :)

As you can see, this is life at the moment. Not very much. And I'm still desperately awaiting the monsoons! May go to Dharamshala next week which should be amazing, but waiting for confirmation. And then back to Cape Town on the 21st.

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  1. Have you read "A guide to the Birds of East Africa" by Nocolas Drayson? It's fiction--about members of a bird club in Nairobi. It's been a little while since I read it, but as I recall, it's a easygoing, sweet little book.

    I've never been to either Africa or India...maybe someday....

  2. I haven't read it, but funny you mention, a friend was just reading it too! I'll get a hold of it from him. Actually you should look at his blog, he's just been doing conservation work in Botswana, amazing stuff - www.sarkozysnotebook.blogspot.com
    Travelling around Africa and India is definitely a must! So much to see and learn. Magical places.