The day after Diwali is a good time to take stock. Did you really have so many sweets over the previous week that you now have to go on a diet? When do you tell the kids that there are some left-over firecrackers? Will anyone mind if you left the fairy lights up till Christmas?
I thought this is also a good time to spare a thought for the numerous moths which died by plunging into candles and diyas. Moths breed immediately after the end of the monsoon, and seem to undergo a huge culling on Diwali. I’m afraid the two in the featured photo are now mere memories.
Tomorrow is Diwali, and today will be the last day of shopping. In most years I would have refused to venture anywhere near a market in the week before that. But, as a street vendor told me on Sunday, “The market has no colour yet.” I finished my photo walk on Sunday afternoon, when the crowds were thin, and my shots were not continuously spoiled by people jogging your elbow. I walked from the shops selling Diwali lights, to the ones which sell flowers (plastic flowers!), past vendors selling bubble guns and coloured boxes, toys and sweets and even a street-side barber.
This boy made my day with this photo
Driving a hard bargain
Choosing Diwali lights
Shaving… keep your distance
Lights of the festival
Diwali’s rainbow bubbles
Too busy to sell
Candid shot, not candied for Diwali
Sales are thin
Nawab on a ladder
Taking a break
It’s a hard choice
Now looking at the photos I see that I concentrated on the universal language of trade: customers trying to choose between options, trying to strike a bargain, or looking at merchandise which is beyond their price bracket, vendors who look desperate to sell, some who are doing good business, and a boy selling plush toys who wanted to have his photo taken. I made his day when I took his photo, and he made my day.
Happy Diwali to everyone.
Yesterday I heard the call of the hornbill again. In the last few years a pair has nested in one of the tall trees in the garden. The nesting season is before March, and the birds are gone by April. The featured photo was taken in early March this year. Mid-October seemed a little too early for these birds to nest.
I was discussing this with The Family when she floored me with a bit of nature lore. Apparently hornbills prey on small birds, and have been spotted raiding the chicks of rose-ringed parakeets. Our garden is full of flocks of these raucous bright green pests. The parakeets nest from September to December. So this is a time when the first chicks have hatched. Maybe these Hornbills were here early to hunt. If so, we should thank them for keeping the population of the parakeet pests in check.
For a few evenings there was a beautiful yellow light which would bathe the world around us after sunset. As the red glow on the clouds faded, moments before it turned dark, the world would become a magical yellow. If you mentioned this to someone on the streets of Mumbai, they would smile and agree. The featured photo was taken quite a while after sunset; you can see that the camera, while trying to compensate for the light, makes a blur of the birds.
This is not a light we see every year. After the monsoon the skies are generally clear of dust. If there is the normal pollution of the city, it just creates a haze and reddens the sunset. This colour came with a clear view of the horizon. It wasn’t even as humid as it could have been. It was a mystery until people started mentioning a raging fire on Butcher Island, off the coast. The fuel that is stored for ships on this outer island had caught fire and it took days to bring the blaze under control.
Light effects at sunrise and sunset depend so much on what the air contains. Moisture, dust and smoke are all things that produced beautiful sunsets. What was this due to?
I was trying to trace a persistent error message in my camera and eventually found that it was due to a lost set of photos taken two years ago. I’d taken them during an early morning walk to look for birds inside Nameri national park, on the border between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. On the way back we saw a large number of butterflies in a space of about 15 minutes. I managed to photograph a few of them. This is what biodiversity means!
Male and female chocolate albatross, Appias lyncida
Grey pansy, Junonia atleites
Chocolate tiger, Parantica melaneus
Peacock pansy, Junonia almana. There’s plastic inside the forest
Open wings of the common palmfly, Elymnias hypermnestra
A mud-pooling pair of chocolate albatross, Appias lyncida
Just waking up – a common palmfly, Elymnias hypermnestra
Mud-pooling chocolate grass yellow, Eurema sari
Lemon pansy, Junonia lemonias
Common evening brown, Melanitis leda, in the morning
After the monsoon ends the weather turns unbearably hot again; that’s what an Indian summer is. In the sweltering heat of October it is a minor disaster if you forget to water plants. The rose bush has been putting out flowers through the monsoon, because the rains keep it from drying up. Today I saw that two days of not watering it has begun to affect it.
Many plants are beginning to bud. I look at the methi (fenugreek) shrub. Every stalk is budding new leaves. The hairy surfaces of the leaves catch every piece of lint which floats by. You have to carefully wash the leaves before you use them in the kitchen.
But really this is the time of the year for insects. The hibiscus bush is beginning to push out flower buds. As soon as one opens, ants swarm over it. Soon they will bring their aphid cows up the stalks. The vegetation below the spectacular flower will be thick with aphids, as ants run up and down their farm milking them.
Moths have pupated too. I saw this lovely October visitor on the wall today, sitting out in full sight. The lore about bright and visible butterflies and moths is that they are poisonous. Many birds would see this yellow on the wings of the moth more brightly than we do, so it is definitely signaling that it is inedible.
Well back on the wall I found a few green lacewings. They are nocturnal and have probably come here to eat the aphids from the ant farms. Lacewings are not poisonous: birds and bats will happily eat them. That’s the reason this one was sitting far back on the wall, under an overhang. In another month all these showy insects will be gone. That’s when migratory birds begin to arrive.
One of the biggest festivals of India is the Durga Puja. One part of the festivities is a dance to the goddess performed with live coals in earthen pots. There was a time when only men were allowed to perform this. The times are changing. At least in one place in Mumbai this year the only dancers were women.
The Indian Ocean monsoon is a massive planetary scale circulatory system which we are just beginning to understand. Much more easy to see are the things that happen at our scale. In the last decade or slightly more, there have been longer dry spells between heavier showers. Thirty centimeters of rain or more in a few hours is no longer rare. There’s an emergency of this kind every couple of years in Mumbai.
If you face the open sea on the west of Mumbai you will see very often a storm coming in. You can take a photo, and then look at the satellite map to marvel at the scale of the storm cloud. Sometimes it covers hundred of kilometers. The new views that a phone can add enhance the sense of wonder that one feels about the monsoon. You are not alone. Across the country a million others are seeing this storm coming.
When the storm passes and the sun comes out, there are pools of water which evaporate slowly. Above the clouds it is astronomical summer: the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun. The humidity and heat can be hard. You long for the rain to cool you down.
In the poem Meghdoot, an epic about love in the time of the monsoon, written one and a half thousand years ago, Kalidasa described the monsoon rain on these mountains as “painted streaks on a elephant’s hide”. Watching the clouds roll in over the hills, you understand that he wasn’t talking about water streaks, but the green that suddenly sprouts between rocks.
Low clouds roll relentlessly over the Sahyadris. When it invades a dance floor, it becomes a light which hangs over everything and at the same time hides everything. The dance floor is all music and light and warm moisture. I peer at The Family; we are walking on a cloud. What message does it bring?
Sometimes, you think the monsoon is bleak. Roads are washed away. Dark clouds rob the world of colour. But it is warm rain that beats down on you. The hills are alive, really, and growing. When the sun comes out you see the electric green that will fade between the end of monsoon and the beginning of winter. That will be the season of festivals all over India.
Kaas plateau is a seven hour drive from Mumbai. The herbs flower in the closing weeks of the monsoon: between September and early October. Many of the flowers you see here are also found in the nearby Mahabaleshwar plateau and in Lonavala, closer to Mumbai. Expect lots of small herbs, few bushes and trees only rarely. Be prepared for long walks in rain and mud, with no food and water except what you carry with you.
Starry pipewort, Eriocaulon stellulatum
The parasitic purple witchweed, Striga gesnerioides, grows on roots of peas
Sonkadi, Pentanema indicum
The very common giant milkweed, Calotropa gigantea
The invasive Chinese knotweed, Persicaria chinensis
Dipcadi montanum (ursulae)
Toothbrush orchid, Habenaria heyneana
The hard to find neelambari, Delphinium malabaricum
Silk leaf, Lagascea mollis, has lots of tiny flowers clustered together
The tiny Cyanotis fasciculata, Nilwanti
Ceropegia vincaefolia flowers on large bushes
flowers of the Indian arrowroot, Curcuma caulina
The strange green flowers of Euphorbia laeta, Dudhi
The very rare Ceropegia jainii
Cyanotis tuberosa, cat’s ears or abhali
The late waking Murdannia lanuginosa, Abolima
Smithia sensitiva carpets the plateau sometimes
The carnivorous Indian sundew, Drosera indica
The carnivorous purple bladderwort, Utricularia purpurascens
The widespread herb called water willow, karambal, Justicia procumbens
Glory lily, Gloriosa superba which grows on chest-high bushes
The carnivorous Burman’s sundew, Drosera burmanii
Flowers and herbs of the Western Ghats, especially of the Sahyadris, are now well documented. There are many guides for amateur naturalists like me. I was introduced to the pleasures of flowers by Adesh Shivkar and Mandar Khadilkar; google them if you wish. There is nothing available yet for an amateur explorer of the fascinating tiny world of mosses and lichens (see the featured photo).
Negotiating the mean streets of Delhi you see sometimes the car “which is not itself mean, which is neither tarnished nor afraid.” That’s a rare sight. Significantly less rare are less-than-new luxury cars. If fleeting glimpses are anything to go by, then the Mercedes E class is becoming very popular on the roads. A quick search tells me that right now there are 270 used Mercedes E classes on sale in the Delhi region. Wonder if the car which I took a photo of has been put out to pasture yet.