Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Basai Wetlands, Gurgaon

The Basai Wetlands are slowly but surely being swallowed up by development that is taking place all around it. The last remaining Wetlands of Gurgaon, the area is home to quite many migratory birds. Just recently when I visited the place, I was surprised to see that it has more birds than the much-hyped Sultanpur National Park, a few kilometres away!

Located right opposite to the water treatment plant, a mere five kilometres from Gurgaon, the Basai Wetland is accessible through a very narrow lane on the right-hand side after you get off from the flyover adjacent to the water treatment plant. My favourite companion is a V-15 bike that comes on its own while riding on loose mud. Its wide tyres and comfortable stance will not let you slip.

In the years to come, the pictures that you are seeing in this blog post will be pictures only and few will remember having seen the spot-billed ducks, or the cormorants, or even the lapwings. The Haryana Government needs to do something urgently to preserve the flora and fauna of the Basai Wetlands. It is an unfortunate fact that unsustainable development, rampant clearing of forest lands, wetlands, and the destruction of the Aravali Mountain's ecosystem has cost us greatly. When these birds go, when all the wetlands go, then man too will have to go!

The kingfisher was seen fishing in the waters. It looks like there are a lot of fish in the wetlands and they are able to sustain a large number of water birds. At stake, therefore are not just the birds, migratory birds, but also the fish that dwell in the waters of the wetlands. I just hope that people wake up to the disaster that would take place if these remaining wetlands of Gurgaon were to be destroyed!

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Animals of the Sultanpur National Park, Gurgaon

Although the Sultanpur National Park is a notified park, a sanctuary that is meant to protect migratory birds, one can find all sorts of animals, domesticated or wild. I don't know what I have done with my photographs of dogs chasing Asian Antelope across the lake, but then that is the truth! The Sultanpur National park is also home to domesticated cattle and dogs vying for space with the migratory birds that arrive every year to a lake that is dwindling in size!

While the Asian Antelope might be condoned for their presence in the National Park, (being wild themselves) the presence of oxen and cows, especially during the nesting season of migratory birds might be a bit of a danger for visitors. In many cases, I have had to walk past many an Ox with my heart beating in my chest wondering lest the bull should lunge at me. It is my request to the park authorities not to allow oxen into the park!

However, one is equally likely to come into confrontation with a full grown male Asian Antelope while walking on the tracks and paths inside the Sultanpur National Park. This happened the day my brother and I were walking back towards the interpretation centre after spotting a couple of Saras Cranes.This huge specimen of the Asian Antelope stood at the end of the path and stared at us for a couple of minutes. We stopped where we were and waited to see what the fellow would do. Fortunately, he left after some time!

Some of the Asian Antelopes, the does and their fawn might be as curious of the people with their cameras as people might be about these beautiful creatures. The Asian Antelopes should continue to be protected.

Yes, those are definitely clothes hanging on the branches of the tree. This snap was taken on the first of October when the part had just opened. There were apparently hired workers who were gathering stalks of grass to make nesting islands in the park.

Of course, squirrels too range the trees and some of them like this one might even confront you. Most of these animals form part of the fragile ecosystem of the Sultanpur National Park, others, like domesticated ones should be re-located.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Saras Cranes Serenading at the Sultanpur National Park

Just today, my brother and I had a pleasant surprise when we visited the Sultanpur Nationaal Park close to Gurgaon. The surprise came towards the latter half of our visit, on the second half, to be precise. I was leading the way and I had reached a path jutting into the lake when we heard a strange sound of perhaps a few really angry birds. We paused, wondering what could have made such a ruckus when lo and behold, a couple of Saras Cranes stepped out of their hiding places in the bushes and then they made a stately stroll towards the waters of the lake right in front of us. What was amazing was to see how synchronised their movements were. When one of them bent down to groom itself, the other mirrored it! It became clear that we had passed what had probably their nest on the ground, and they had made a noise to frighten us away. 

Saras Cranes are monogamous and they stay together for good. These cranes are characterised by their large size reaching 1.8 metres in height. and eight kilos in weight. Saras cranes are found in Australia, and parts of Asia. Their numbers are dwindling in India and very few remain. These beautiful birds have a red patch on their heads reaching down to their necks. Their habitat is close to human settlements with abundant wastelands. They build their nests on an island of weeds and grass a few inches above the water level.

I could not, unfortunately, get very good photographs of these birds as I was shooting into the rising sun and the lighting was really bad!

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Are Computers Going to Replace Teachers? Just a thought

Are computers going to replace teachers? The teaching profession has undergone much change during the years. The advent of computers, digital technology and now A.I., have all fueled this change. Gone are the days when Gurus were Gurus and Eklavya gave his thumb to his Guru! The title Guru changed into Teacher and now Teacher is, Facilitator or even Supervisor! The role of the teacher has shifted from expert to facilitator, centre stage to side stage. Teachers are more expensive than computers, imagine, you could buy a computer every month for the salary that a teacher gets every month! All this change has been driven by the advent of computers into every sphere of life. Flipped classrooms, research methods, collaborative learning, online tests and surveys, like Socratic, for example, have proved the teacher is no longer the expert he once was, and he can be challenged at any time! I guess a time will soon come when computers and Artificial Intelligence will make it possible for schools to have half the number of teachers and yet run effectively! The teachers who remain will merely have a supervisory role and the work of ten teachers will be done by one supervisor/facilitator and computers. Students will have their personal computers and one facilitator will have five hundred students to supervise, thanks to the support given by A.I. and virtual classrooms. Students might not even need to come to school. There will be less traffic on the roads, you won't have to even run a school with electricity expenses, nor would you need to spend on infrastructure. This will be a sad state of affairs for a large number of teachers who do not take up the challenge of becoming future proof! They need to be well versed with the use of A.I. computers, LMS modules, ERP modules, infographics, Blogs and so on.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Dragonfly Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

Dragonfly Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: This is a picture of a dragonfly taken at the Sultanpur National Park recently. These insects can be found in great abundance in habitats that have rivers, lakes and ponds nearby.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Teach Students to be Good Digital Citizens

The mere introduction of digital technology does not a school better make! Rather, it is a combination of technology and the training of how to use it that makes for a more effective teaching and learning process. The technology standards of any good school will be determined by how effectively it uses technology. Optimisation of technology can be achieved only when the use of technology is complemented by a curriculum on Good Digital Citizenship. In the words of Jill Felty, a Technology Integration Facilitator, Paradise Valley School District, "Good citizenship in person needs to flow over into good citizenship online. It has a lot of the same principles: respect, being kind and meeting expectations." The above quote is taken from an article by Dan Tynan, titled Educators Offer Advice About Teaching Good Digital Citizenship / Ed Tech Magazine. The use of digital technology should also reflect kindness and respect for others.
The use of technology, and in this case, digital technology comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. The use of Digital Technology in everyday classroom transactions in schools has gone up to a great extent, what with students doing research on the internet for their projects, research papers, and term papers. Students in most of the schools have created Whatsapp groups to share homework questions and other important messages. Students and teachers today use Facebook to post polls, surveys, and questionnaires. However, what most policymakers ignore is that students need to be taught to be good Digital Citizens before they are even introduced or encouraged to use this technology.
The ease of access to social networking sites, and the almost omniscient reach of the internet, however, has exposed students and their teachers to certain risks that can only be mitigated through an awareness about the meaning of Good Digital Citizenship, along with an idea of what proper online ethics and etiquettes constitute. Schools all over the country need to develop a curriculum that addresses the issues of Cyberethics, proper online behavior, and ultimately Good Digital Citizenship. Some of the elements of Good Citizenship would, of course, include how to use the hardware in the computer lab, shutting down the system after its use, how to use the keyboard and not to eat or drink water in the computer lab!
But then Good Citizenship goes beyond just how to use the keyboard or even switching off the system after use. It is also about keeping one's privacy safe while working from a shared platform in school, it would also include avoiding posting personal comments on others (which could be defined as being nasty) and of course not visiting restricted sites.Good Citizenship, besides including the aforementioned elements is also about not plagiarising ideas, written content, respecting intellectual property rights and attributing content to its rightful author.
Integrating technology into the learning process in schools is a good idea, but then introducing the concept of Digital Citizenship, Cyberethics, and sound Digital Practices would enhance the learning process even further. Content attribution: teaching students to use the correct format in the bibliography, whether the MLA format or the APA format, teaching students the right way to quote a source, teaching students to summarise a passage, or perhaps even teaching students how to paraphrase another paragraph is just one more trait of good Digital Citizenship.
E-mail etiquettes, use of proper language online, and the observance of the common etiquettes  of day to day social transactions need to be observed even more strictly when one is online!

Monday, 2 October 2017

Encounters of a close kind at the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary

Today when I visited the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary, Gurgaon, after it opened I had expected to see a lot of migratory birds! Sadly, however, there were fewer birds and there was barely any water in the lake. However what made my day was a spotting of a large number of black dragonflies (Anisoptera) that I had never seen before. My brother Sanjay also had a close encounter with a calf of the Asian Antelope.

I was also able to spot a colorful dragonfly that I have not seen before. The colors are simply mesmerizing. 

Apart from the dragonflies, there were also quite a few butterflies and I was able to get a nice shot of one of them that was trying to hang on to a grass stalk. I guess that was why I was able to get enough time to take a shot!

Of the birds, there were a few that I was able to photograph, that is when I was done with the insects!

Besides egrets and teals and coots, there were also cormorants. The painted storks were, however, few in number, although I did see a few of the painted storks on the Basai Wetlands!

At the rate at which the lake is drying up, it is clear that the bird sanctuary will lose the essence of a Bird Sanctuary as birds turn to other, better wetlands than the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary. A lot needs to be done in order to preserve the habitat of this bird sanctuary. 

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Save The Basai Wetlands in Gurgaon

The Basai wetlands in Gurgaon are the last wetlands that Gurgaon has today. There was a time when this Millenium City in the National Capital Region once had a large number of freshwater bodies, streams, and lakes. Today none of them exist. No wonder, the groundwater table of Gurgaon has started to sink at an alarming rate! A day will come when Gurgaon will have to import water from neighboring states thanks to the unsustainable extraction of groundwater for construction purposes and the filling up of freshwater bodies. 
Gurgaon once was - a peaceful hamlet blessed with green fields, forests, lakes, and streams, now turned into a wasteland devoid of sparrows and vultures that once acted as nature's own scavengers. I have seen Gurgaon change into a concrete jungle fed by the greed of real estate sharks who have transformed this once upon a time Sylvan district into a concrete jungle of tangled pillars and dust bowls. In the context of this, I would like to draw the attention of the readers towards the last remaining wetlands of Gurgaon known as the Basai Wetlands. Found close to the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary, the Basai Wetlands are low-lying areas that are filled with rainwater. These wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate. They are being filled up so that buildings can come up. Freshwater bodies that could be seen last year close to the Sultanpur bird sanctuary don't exist anymore. 
It is an unfortunate fact that people who matter, policymakers, the administration, and think tanks need to wake up to the alarming rate at which wetlands in Gurgaon have disappeared. Greed and apathy, lack of willpower and sheer civic laziness have turned this town into a veritable wasteland, a dustbowl and a magnet for advancing sand dunes of an advancing desert.

Freshwater bodies, wetlands, and marshes are an important part of the ecosystem. When wetlands marshes and freshwater bodies are destroyed, it can only spell disaster! The ecosystem is a finely balanced system that sustains life in all its forms. When any component in the ecosystem, such as grasslands, forests, and freshwater bodies are dislodged, it has a cascade effect on other biological systems. No wonder, therefore, nature hits back with a revenge. Take for example how all those areas that were once part of freshwater bodies and streams become inundated even in light rain!
Freshwater bodies like the Basai wetlands help recharge the groundwater levels. They act as catchment areas and they help in storing rainwater. Freshwater bodies also support life in the form of fish, birds and aquatic life. Migratory birds from far away lands turn up at these sites. It is not surprising, therefore, to see a large number of migratory waterbirds turning up at spots that were once ponds and lakes just because they have a centuries-old memory of flight paths to breeding and nesting grounds that they have been visiting for ages!

The Basai wetlands are home to a large number of migratory birds, both from the country and from places as far away as Siberia. These birds include painted storks, cormorants, spot bill ducks herons and many others. When the Basai wetlands are filled up and buildings come upon them, we will have taken away what was once home to them!

Gurgaon will abdicate its tag of Millenium city of Haryana if it does not protect its wetlands, forests and even its unique portion of the Aravali mountains. Gurugram, unfortunately, has become a metaphor and a symbol of what can go wrong as a result of greed official apathy and unplanned development. When officialdom turns a blind eye towards the rampant destruction of freshwater areas in the town.  The attraction of kickbacks and the assured promise of returns on the sale of land that was home to various birds and other animals.
The losers, unfortunately, in this race for development are the countless migratory birds that have continued to visit the Basai Wetlands for the purpose of breeding and propagation of their species. Unfortunately birds have no voice in this world hat is driven by commercial consideration ! Unfortunately, migratory birds and ethnic species that thrive in the Basai wetlands have no voice and so civic agencies turn a blind eye towards them. I am surprised to see Kingfisher birds perched on trees even when their natural habitats exist no longer! We, as human beings have no right of depriving nature of its rightful ownership of the land on which we build our homes and offices. We are merely stewards with a responsibility of protecting our ecosystems. We need to develop a holistic approach towards development in the region, and understand that each act of ours has a compounding impact on a larger scale on the ecosystem within which we too live!

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Golden Jumping Spider

I have been taking particular interest in spiders found moving around on top of the potted plants in the verandah of my house, but today I spotted a strange looking spider no bigger than a grain of wheat, in fact, it must have been smaller. What made this spider distinct from all the others I have seen was its golden coat and almost translucent limbs. When I looked closer, I noticed that it had a rather colourful torso made up of pink, black and golden notes. The spider could also take giant leaps in a split second. I tried to take a few snaps of it from the front, but then it seemed to be rather shy. Nevertheless, I have pasted below a few photographs of this rather tiny, beautiful creature.

Could this be a new sub-species of the leaping spider? This question would probably best be answered by experts! 

Saturday, 23 September 2017

A Grasshopper's Portrait Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

A Grasshopper's Portrait Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: This is a snap of a grasshopper taken in the morning. I played with the aperture and used a flash to get the right part into notice.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Cataclysm - A Short Story

He had decided to take Tomkins to the palace by the underground and now he regretted having ever made such a decision! The incessant rain had made the whole city of Longarno a swamp, a virtual sea of water and they were stuck inside the underground. There seemed to be no way out! 

He glanced at Tomkins apprehensively who shrugged and said, "I guess we are in for a long haul!" he said with finality.
"Yes, Tomkins, I guess we shouldn't have stepped out after all" he replied apologetically. 
"OK, no problem at all, Roy, we will wait for the rain to stop," he added.

Just then there was a loud crash that reverberated throughout the underground station and before the eyes of the horrified spectators, a whole train on the tracks below the platform was tossed a few inches above the track by a gush of water rushing behind it. Clearly, the salvage pumps in the underground Metro Station had failed.

Roy grabbed hold of Tomkin's arm and shouted, "Let's get out of here, the station will soon be flooded!'

They took the escalator towards the exit but were hampered and hemmed in by who were headed the same way. Just as they reached the exit, the reason for the huge crowd became clear. A surge of water was headed over the lip of the entrance straight into the underground station. The water was a couple of feet deep inside the exit and people were hesitant about stepping into the street where the water would have been deeper! Tomkins and Roy however, took the plunge and literally waded into the street where the water was now waist deep.

The sky was overcast and it was pouring, thick drops of rain that seemed more like lead bullets than drops of water.

"Let's head that way," Roy shouted, indicated towards a rise in the ground.

They waded towards the spot indicated by Roy. It was an artificially created mound of debris, probably leftover from recently completed renovation work on the metro station. Shivering in the cold rain, they looked with dismay at the rapidly changing landscape. The streams of water had turned into torrents of water which had picked up speed. They watched helplessly as a couple of men who had emerged from the entrance of the metro station were swept off their feet by the rapidly moving torrent of water.

Far away in the distance came the wailing sounds of fire engines rushing towards them. Soon, however, the fire engines were forced to stop because of the rising levels of water. The firemen climbed onto the top of the fire engines looking around rather helplessly, unable to do anything to help the stranded passengers of the metro.

Both Roy and Tomkins realised that there was no point in staying on the island as it was evident that the deluge would soon overwhelm their island. With one accord they both looked in the direction from where the fire engines had come. They needed to head towards higher ground and for that to happen they would have to wade against the stream.

"Let's do it!" Tomkins shouted above the noise of the rain even as he nodded towards East.
"Sure, let's move before the rising waters become too difficult to fight!' Roy added.

Both of the men took their second plunge that day into the swirling waters of madness, the rain would simply not let up! 'So much so for global warming!' Roy thought even as he led his friend towards the deluge.

Thus it was that two tired, bedraggled and miserable men ended up at the foot of the hills overlooking the sinking town of Torquay. They turned and looked towards the West, it looked like the sea had finally swallowed up the town, or at least most of it. They would have to crest the hills in order to reach the town of Komso which they hoped would have been spared the flooding.

The rains had continued for another five days and by then the whole landscape of Longarno and its surround district had been changed completely. Roy and Tomkins had managed to escape the deluge and made their way inland to Tigrey, the capital of  Marseles.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Aphids and Ants share a very strange Relationship!

Yes, I mean it, Aphids and Ants do share a very strange relationship. I had read about this mutually beneficial relationship between two different insect species but today was the first time I was really able to see it for myself!

You can literally see the ants stroking the backs of the Aphids while the Aphids become perfectly still, exuding a white kind of stuff on to the plant's stem which the ants gulp!

It is clear that Aphids and Ants have a symbiotic relationship. The Aphids feed the Ants with a milk like stuff, while the Ants provide the Aphids with military protection!

The Ant in the above photograph is stroking the Aphid, probably to encourage it to produce milk.

Sometimes a plant stem will be covered with a multitude of Aphids. On looking at the plant stems, one might wonder if the white stuff might not be some kind of a fungus, however, if you see ants moving around, pausing at the white spots, take a more careful look and you will notice something strange.

The world of Ants and Aphids is a remarkable world in which one can see a remarkable example of inter-species cooperation. Look carefully and you might see the Aphids moving along the stem. They will stop of course when they come across Ants. Welcome to the strange world of insects!

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Happy Teacher's Day!

It was all rather quiet when I reached my faculty on the fourth floor on Teacher's day on the fifth of September though there was indeed quite a good deal of student movement. I usually reach early so as to cover up on leftover work. However, the moment I stepped into my faculty, I realized that something was different. Lying on each teacher's work station was a folded A-3 sized folder. When you opened the folder, the inner pages were full of greeting from students. The front page of mine had a very nice picture of me! 

The glasses, the side-parting of the hair, the mustache, and the way the laces have been tied, someone had seriously studied how I looked and this was a testimony to the impact teachers leave on their students' minds!
The day went on we went into our classes the students were a little restless-they had bags which I assumed contained their spare clothes. I had an inkling that the grade twelve students had planned something for later on, but then I did not pay heed, I had to wind up with ASL marks, Report Bee entries, and all this while the grade eight students poured into the faculty with their appreciation cards that they had made, cut designed, and written with their honest and sincere feelings. We were all overwhelmed by their gratitude expressed not through expensive designer cards, or even fancy knick knacks, but with colorful bits of paper with a sincere message in the inner fold. 
After dispersal, we had to head to one of the auditoriums and as soon as each teacher reached the entrance there was a loud cheer to welcome the teacher. The cheering was so loud that I had to close my ears for some time, although it did nothing to dampen the spirit and the enthusiasm.
We took our seats waiting for the program to start, and lo and behold got to see my grade twelve students on the stage, handling the announcements and the commentaries all in very different avatars, it was like they had suddenly become grown ups with the ability to take responsibilities a confidence that I saw sometimes in the class.

But then, well it was a double whammy for us this year. While the students got to honor their teachers on the fifth of September, the core group with Manit Sir appreciated all the teachers on the eighth of September. Teachers and staff who had completed five years and more were given a special mention and tokens of thanks were given to them, I included! The appreciation and words of encouragement were so straight from Manit Sir's heart that most of us were spellbound and had no words to say! After muster in the main auditorium, we proceeded to The Kingdom of Dreams for the "Beyond Bollywood" show. It was indeed a wonderful moment for the teachers for once to relax, put their corrections away and soak in the music and performance of the exceptionally talented artists on stage.

Heartfelt thanks to all the students and the Core Group for making this a memorable and wonderful Teacher's Day!