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Archive for August, 2008

Regulars to the Arignar Anna Zoological Park will be familiar with a huge, gusty male elephant called Vikram. This post is about when he was a baby. I first met Vikram when he was a six-month old baby at the Vandalur zoo, where I was working as a volunteer. The poor guy had been abandoned by his mother and was rescued by the forest guards near Comibatore and sent to the zoo.

Can you imagine a shy elephant? But, yes, elephants at least the little ones are sometimes are shy. Vikram initially would refuse to approach anyone other than his keeper. He in fact, used to slowly back away if we directly approach him. It took a few more weeks (since I volunteered only on weekends after college and didn’t get to go near his enclosure too often), before Vikram was ok with accepting food from other people.

Vikram hated the zoo veterniary doctor. He always tried to hide himself if the vet turned up (and elephant’s do have long memories, as the legend goes, especially with regard to injection needles). Now, I am told, he loudly trumpets his displeasure when the vet arrives for a check-up, giving the long-suffering government servant nearly a heart attack. He is also a great lover of chocolates. He prefers eclairs and sweets. Of course, such food is strictly prohibited and off-limits, but who can resist a sweet, roly-polly thing pawing you with its trunk.

He also had this habit of scratching his back by rubbing himself against the bamboo branches that formed his enclosure. As he grew older it really became a problem, because with one shake, the entire bamboo shed would collapse. That is why, if you go to the zoo now you can see Vikram tied up under a cement shed with metal chains around his feet (Yeah! I hate animals being chained up and I hate the concept of animals being held in captivity).

Vikram also hated fleas and used to rub mud on his back to protect himself. I remember once, when an IFS officer had come for inspection, special attention was given to Vikram. He was bathed and scrubbed clean, all ready for the inspection. Just 10 minutes before the forest officer arrived, however, Vikram managed to get himself thoroughly dirty by rubbing himself in the mud….His keeper was nearly in tears. Finally! They decided to leave out the elephant enclosure in the tour. And so the star attraction of the zoo was never shown to the VIP, because it was having such a jolly good time in its mud bath.

Vikram loved to be petted. He liked nothing better than having other people scrub his back for him. And it was very comforting to see him ambling up to the edge of the fence when he saw us. I do have a few snaps of me and Vikram and I will post them a little later. For now I’m posting pictures of this artistic jumbo from Thailand. Enjoy ūüôā

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The most irritating thing about Dasavatharam was seeing Kamal Hassan in every frame. It being his magnum opus film in no way justifies the fact that the whole film is Kamal, Kamal and nothing but Kamal.

The irritating things about the movie:

Kamal‘s ego. The scene in which social activist Vincent Poovaraghan replies, “Yes. I am a world-class actor” to the villain’s “Who do you think you are? Are you a world actor?” is too irritating for words. K S Ravikumar films have the trademark of K S Ravikumar appearing in at least one shot. But K S Ravikumar crooning about Kamal in the last song Ulaga Nayagane….”You have to be a UN member…You have to get an Oscar award…You have acted in thousands of roles….You are a world actor, world actor, ” Shucks! And K S Ravikumar trying to dance with scantily-clad girls! Too ignominious!
Missing links. Where did Kamal get his cellphone? How did the villains get the number and call Kamal in that scene when Kamal is standing in front of the police station? And containing a bio-weapon with plain NaCl or common salt is plain stupid for a movie that’s trying to be scientific (but fails nevertheless)? And how does a scientist (Govind), who spent most of his adult years creating a bio-weapon for the US so that it can kill millions of Innocent civilians, suddenly develop a conscience and want to save people in India (which he left for a well-paying job in the US)? And many people feel the US itself is a terrorist nation, so why protest the sale of the bio-weapon to a terrorist nation? As if the US is spending billions of dollars on bio-weapons for peaceful purposes.
Pathetic make-up. Kamal is a great actor and without any make-up in Michael Madana KamaRajan we were able to differentiate between the four Kamals. Here the make-up artist didn’t too a good job (Try watching Nutty Professor, you can’t recognise Eddie Murphy in any of the five characters). The faces looked artificial and kind of mummified.
Manmohan Singh, George Bush & Karunanidhi on the same stage? I don’t think so! Donning the role of George Bush and trying to outdo Sivaji Ganesan’s Navarathiri was such an immature attempt at the Oscars. I think Kamal would be better off, if he followed Aamir Khan’s non-special effects style.
Ten roles & a haywire script. Kamal had decided he’d do 10 roles. He decided he’d play a Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim & atheist. He also decided he’d be a tall guy and a short, old lady. So the script is just plain confusion, with the director and script writer trying to fit in all of Kamal egomanical demands.
Too many issues. Kamal Hassan tried to talk about bio-warfare, globalisation, imperialism, terrorism, Shivites vs Vaishnavites, religion, the butterfly effect, chaos theory, discrimination against Dalits, caste feelings, lethargic functioning of the bureaucracy, sycophant government officials, corruption in the govt ranks, the tsunami, ….its just too much packed in three hours.
The Indian anthem being played when Govind lands in India with the bio-weapon. Why the national anthem? When nothing in the film has anything remotely to do with patriotism.
Hiroshima, Nagasaki vs Pearl Harbour. Its so stupid when Christian Fletcher tells Shingen Narahashi “Remember Hiroshima, Nagasaki?” and he retorts with “Remember Pearl Harbour?”. Its so stupid and doesn’t make sense.

What I did like about the movie despite all this, was the subtle criticism he dared make about the present system:

  • He says that both God and science betrayed human beings during the tsunami. In his own words in the last scene, “I didn’t say I don’t believe in God. I only said it will be nice if there was one” (Meaning that God is not there. Why quibble about it?). And that the stone (Vishnu statue) is just powerless. As it didn’t save Vishnu followers (including, the skeletal Ranagaraja Nambi) and got cast up on the beach due to the tsunami not its own powers.
  • He says that people have always killed and got killed in the name of the God in India. Even before Christianity or Islam made its entry to India, people were killing each over communal riots.in this case Shivites vs Vaishnavites.
  • When he’s protesting the sale of “bio-weapons to venture capitalists,” his boss tells him not act like a unionist. I liked how he showed that industrialists try to buy off people with unionist tendencies; when his boss tells Govind he will be paid hundred thousand dollars to go with the tide; and when Vincent’s men are bought off by the sand-mining industrialists here.
  • When he hugs the sanitary workers (most probably Dalits) and the sanitary workers are surprised that he’s touching them.
  • When the old, mad woman hugs the dead Vincent and they tell her not to touch him because he’s from another caste. But the old woman rejects what he says, leaving us with the question who is really mad? The old woman who embraces a stranger as her son or the Hindu fundamentalist, who thinks touching someone from another caste is sinful?
  • when he shows the rampant sand mining taking place on the Palar river bed. He has imitated real-life activists in portraying the anti-sand mining group
  • when he shows the blind faith and prejudices people have due to religion
  • when he makes a hit at Vaiko and Vijaykanth. In the interrogation scene, Balram Naidu questions Govind’s loyalty towards promoting the Tamil language, to which Kamal replies “Telegu people (Vaiko/Vijaykanath) like you will promote the language for their own benefit.”
  • when he criticises Jayendra Saraswathi. When Balram Naidu wants to interrogate people in the Hindu religious mutt, he asks “Are there not criminals in mutt?” (A hit at the recent murder case in which the acharya was arrested and many brahmins protested the move)
  • when Kalif’s dad tells the govt officers not to think “every Muslim is a terrorist”. Kamal of course phrases it in his roundabout way as “don’t think everyone who prays to Mecca is a terrorist.” I feel there’s too much of branding going on. Just because the US govt, UK and other European countries didn’t like Communists; Communists were bad and terrorists. Now the new villains are Muslims. Because the US would love to occupy the oil-rich lands of the Middle-East, the natives or Muslims become evil and terrorists. Even the BJP and RSS get votes using the same platform that “Hindu Rajaya must be born, after killing all the Muslim terrorists in India.” In Gujarat, I guess the Modi govt was partially successful, but it was interesting to note the subtle criticism the film makes of the Gujarat riots and the more than 2,000 Muslims killed in the riots.

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India’s won only three medals in the Beijing Olympics 2008, but our media is painting the town red with celebrations that a new India has emerged in sports. Rubbish!

The only remarkable thing about the whole show was that India despite a population exceeding a billion with around half of them under the age of 25, managed to give its usual measly performance this time around and our media consoled itself by glorifying the few winners, who made it despite the odds against them. Poverty, lack of political will, malnutrition, poor infrastructure, lack of sponsorship (only cricket and horse racing seem to fare well monetarily), equipment, corruption, lack of organization, social immobility….the list is endless as to what’s wrong with India in the Olympics.

And take a look at the winners РAbhinav Bindra, 25 from Chandigarh, won a gold in the 10-meter air rifle competition, Vijender Kumar, 23, a bus driver’s son from a village about 80 miles from here, won a bronze in boxing and Sushil Kumar, 24, who learnt to wrestle in the dirt on the outskirts of Delhi, also won a bronze. All of them, unlike the other Olympic champions Рdid not train wearing Nike shoes, in AC gyms or in a place remotely resembling a Olympian launch pad.

But as fellow-blogger, god of 86 says, by Indian standards this has been an extremely productive Olympics.

According to several statistics, India is the country in the world with the lowest number of total Olympic medals per capita. Year after year large countries – Russia, US and China, dominate the Olympic Games medal ranks.

In 2000, India came last but second in the 82 countries that participated. This table shows the number of Olympic medals won per million inhabitants in the Sydney Olympic Games 2000.

75 Sri Lanka 0.05 1 19,238,575
76 Thailand 0.05 3 61,230,874
77 China 0.05 59 1,261,832,482
78 Indonesia 0.03 6 224,784,210
79 Colombia 0.03 1 39,685,655
80 Nigeria 0.02 3 123,337,822
81 Vietnam 0.01 1 78,773,873
82 India 0.00 1 1,014,003,817

Which is the most successful Olympic Nation ? Definitely not India.

Another informal statistics, shows India at bottom place

122 118 118 Vietnam 80 08 2 87375 6.528 0.04
123 117 117 Iraq 48 08 1 28993 10.452 0.03
124 Sudan 60 08 1 39379 9.178 0.03
125 119 119 India 48 08 15 1129866 10.452 0.01

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1)The argumentative journalist: The journalist who believes he shouldn’t stop with asking questions in a press meet. No press meet is complete unless he gets into an argument with the main speaker.

(e.g.) At a press meet, in which late forest brigand Veerappan‘s wife Muthulakshmi was protesting against airing a serial on the life of Veerappan by a popular Tamil TV channel, this kind of a nuisance cropped up. Ms Muthulakshmi felt that her two girls had already faced enough discrimination from the school management and in the interests of the girls’ education demanded that the channel refrain from raking up the issue.

The argumentative journalist: Why can’t they air the serial?

Muthulakshmi: You see sir, they are…

The argumentative journalist: (Interrupts) Why are you preventing them from airing the serial?

Muthulakshmi: Sir, my girls..

The argumentative journalist: Will you allow them if they give you any royalty?

(By this time, Muthulakshmi is in tears..and the organisers are trying to close the press meet. And this guy walks out proud, thinking he’s another Karan Thapar, who succesfully got Kapil Dev to cry..)

2)The cover-seeking journalist: This journalist will ask a hundred-one questions (to justify his taking money) or ask none at all (as he wants to draw no attention to himself or the money he’s getting from the organisers). He’s also the one guy who gets a bad name for everybody else in the profession. You can easily spot this guy, as he’s found to be hanging with the orgainsers most of the time, rather than with the speakers at the press meet.

3)The honesty-advertising journalist: Most journalists working for English newspapers don’t accept money (because they are reasonably well-paid and social norms)….but there’s a difference between the honest and the honesty-advertising journalist.

The super-honest journalist shows off his honesty:

  • by abusing PR agents. He feels his honesty is directly proportional to how badly he treats these people, who are paid good money to be sycophants and lobbiers
  • by taking only the press release and returning everything else in the press kit (honest journalists also do the same; but they don’t brag about it so that everyone else at the event can hear)
  • by not taking, coffee, tea, food or drinks at the meet, as he will not be under any obligation whatsoever to write favourably about that company (Of course, the same guy the minute he gets back to his office, might write a 800-word piece praising the company, if he’s told its an Editor’s Must)
  • by wearing torn slippers, a joulna bag, a kurta and spectacles

4)The arrogant journalist: Everywhere there’s a hierarchy. And in the newspaper industry in Chennai, the people at the bottom of the rung are Tamil/vernacular newspaper journalists; next come News Today and news websites; next Indian Express and Deccan Chronicle. Crowing it at the top are Hindu’s journalists. Joining them at the top is the ex-Express, now TOI team (Times of India).

Earlier, PR and HR guys would not start the press conference till the Hindu journalist came, even though every other journalist in the hall would be fuming at the delay and the obvious partiality/toad-eating. When finally the Hindu journalist arrived, he would cross his legs, ignore all the other journalists, pretend he is God and generally make a nuisance of himself. The opening statement of any conversation of his would be: “I’m from the Hindu” (like he owned the paper).

5)The know-it-all journalist: These people abound, even the honest, nice journalists sometimes get this way. They have to introduce irrelevant, unnecessary details just so that they can exhibit their knowledge. Most of often, the guy would have done a google search on the subject 20 minutes before leaving for the press conference and thinks he knows everything.

(e.g) At a recent press conference in which a city hospital announced the first oozyte pregnancy in India (I don’t if it was the first, but every Chennai hospital is competing for media space that they are the first in something….soon they might even announce: “We are the first and only hospital with 0% recovery”). Everyone else was interested in the legal, ethical and medical implications of using this method. One bright person alone acted like a school student with her science teacher.

The know-it-all journalist: Like more than 70% of any living cell is made of water. So when you freeze the egg, does it turn into ice? Won’t it die?

Doctor: No, using our rapid freezing technique, the egg will not decay

The know-it-all journalist: But if it is frozen to sub-zero temperatures it will die. Right?

The Doctor launches into a highly-complicated explanation on why the embryo is not dead. While all the journalists want the accompanying lunch and not the explanation.

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Though I’m a big, big dog lover, I’ve got bitten four times by dogs. Actually its because I’m a dog lover that I got bitten so many times. The one thing to my credit is I haven’t been bitten by a dog after I was 14 (Now at 23 I can hopefully claim that I know how to socialise with dogs).

The first time I got bitten by a dog was when I was 3. Being extremely fond of my neighbour’s cute little¬†puppy I had hugged it tight. The puppy, alarmed by the tight embrace and thinking I was making an attempt on its life, bit my hand and escaped. What scared my parents, even more, was that the puppy was killed that very same evening by a train¬†in Vandalur. My mother, for weeks, was praying that the puppy shouldn’t have had rabies.

The second time, I got bitten was at my Uncle Nirmal’s place. Uncle Nirmal and his wife Nirmala (apart from the names, they are also engaged in the same profession – medicine) love dogs and have this huge, affable German Shepherd¬†housed in their hospital-cum-residence. The poor dog had been cooped up for more than three hours, because we were expected (my grandmother hates dogs). Not knowing this I happily went up to the dog and started patting it, seeing it wag its tail. Within a second I retreated with my hand bitten and everyone in an uproar. (My skin was indented and no bleeding).

The third time, it was definitely not my fault. I was walking up to my friend’s house in Vandalur. Their house does not have a garden or a wall and looks out straight into the street. When I was nearing the house, I spotted a Doberman. Seeing it I halted in my tracks, but the dog with no provocation at all and with no warning bark or anything lunged straight at me (dogs usually give¬†a warning when ur threatening it in some way; they bark before they attack). At 14, I knew that dogs tend to attack people if they run. So I stood my ground, expecting that the dog will sniff at me and then leave me alone. Instead it bit me hard in the arm. I was shocked, but I didn’t struggle. After three minutes of holding onto my arm, it got bored and let go off me.¬†My¬†arm was bleeding and my dress was soon soaking. After 10 minutes of me calling for my friend¬†Tamil selvi, she¬†finally appeared and tied up the dog (the whole time the dog was standing there guarding me and giving me dirty looks). ¬†She was shocked at what happened.

She said her relatives had purposely trained the dog to bite people. The local postman and the paper boy had earlier been severely mauled and disfigured by this dog. She said I was lucky to have so little a wound inflicted by that dog.

I was of course furious with the owners. It is so harmful for the dog and others if you train it to bite (unless its a guard dog, a police or military dog).

Everyone know why it is harmful to a person if a dog bites.

Why is it harmful for the dog, if it is trained to bite?  

  • because the person, who was bitten by the dog, can take action. A complaint to the local police station will be enough reason for authorities to cart the dog away to the local pound.
  • because the dog itself will become anti-social & unhappy. Of course, the individual owner’s ego may get boosted if it becomes a one-man dog, friendly to him and a biter to all….but in the long run, the dog will be unhappy, if it is not properly socialised.
  • because the dog will become a burden eventually; If it is trained to bite¬†no one¬†other than its owner¬†can¬†feed it, bathe it¬†or take it to the vet. The owner cannot leave the dog with anyone and go off on a vacation

The fourth time, I got bitten by a dog, was when I was at vacation bible school. I had become very pally-pally with the neighbour’s dog. On the last day of the event, there was the feast. I thought I’d give the dog a few tit-bits off my plate. I went up to the dog and it got really excited. It started jumping all over me trying to get at the plate. As I was wearing a sari, I lost balance when the dog jumped on me….In its attempt to get at the plate, its teeth accidentally cut through my skin. I didn’t realise it had accidentally bitten me, till a few minutes a later, when I got up and saw the abrasive.

Moral of the story:Dogs are basically nice creatures, they don’t bite unless provoked. When they bite,¬†you can be sure some human being is it at fault (the dog owner, who didn’t properly¬†socialise it, or the person who provoked¬†it).

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My interest in the name debate of this breed was sparked off when my cousin insisted that GSDs were different from Alsations.

Me, being the aspiring vet (at 15) that I was, took him all the way to Connermara library in Egmore to prove my point.

Many people think that Alsations and German Shepherds are two different breeds, but they are actually the same dog with different names.

The breed was named German Shepherd as they used to help shepherds¬†herd and protect sheep. But when World War I was over, dog breeders felt that the inclusion of the word “German” would affect the dog’s popularity, because of the anti-German sentiments prevailing in Britain then.¬†So the British¬† Kennel Club¬†renamed the dog as ‘Alsatian Wolf Dog.’

Again this caused problems as the media published reports that the Kennel Club was letting loose half-bred wolves in Britian. It was as late as the 1970s that Alsations came to be called German Shepherd Dogs again in Commonwealth countries like India and Britain.

But even now my cousin insists they are two different dogs. He says, there is a German breed and an English breed. I of course have to learnt to ignore him and his opinions ūüėČ

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I have always wanted to own a Siberian Husky. There is something so graceful, upright and noble in its carriage and bearing. Unluckily, I have never been able to own the dog (since it comes with a Rs 1 lakh + price tag in India). Other than patting the few that come my way at the Chennai dog shows, I have not been able to really get close to my favourite dog breed.

My first introduction to Huskies came while I was reading Call of the Wild by Jack London. The images the books conjured were spell-binding – beautiful, furry half-wolves, forging their way in the Arctic cold; furry feet running on soft snow, the struggle between civilisation and the wild. In the North, Siberian Huskies are primarily used as working dogs. They were used to ferry people and goods across the vast, white expanse of the Arctic pole. White Fang, was another book of Jack London’s in which Siberian Huskies figure; though the hero of the novel is actually a half-bred wolf.

Now you might wonder what a dog, which was named Siberian Husky, was doing in Alaska? Well with the Nome Gold Rush in the US and Canada, many gold diggers used these dogs to pull sleds while they hunted for gold.

But being the extremely handsome dog that it is, it soon became a show dog and a family pet. And that’s how the poor thing which was bred to battle the severe northern cold, found its way to tropical India. Go to any Indian dog show, and the richest idiot there will be sporting a Siberian Husky. So far the half-a-dozen Siberian huskies I have met at the Chennai dog shows, spent the whole three days of the event in their AC trailers. They stepped out for a brief 15 minutes at the show ring and for another brief 5 minutes to receive the awards before they were hustled back into their AC trailers.

The poor things are carted all the way from Ooty (where again they are kept in royal seclusion in AC rooms during the summer) to attend the dog show in hot, dry Chennai.

Siberian Huskies come from the Spitz family as do Pomeranians. I had a lovely white spitz myself named Achu (Watch out for the Life and Times of Achu, in the coming posts)

Many people accuse Pomeranians of being nasty and short tempered.  Well, so would I be If I had long, thick lovely hair, ideal for the northern climes, but forced to live in Tamil Nadu; where even the native Rajapalayams, Chippiparais and Kannis feel the heat.

All the spitz varities РAkita,  Malamute, Keeshond, Laika, etc, have a wolfish look and are very handsome dogs.

The first time I saw a Siberian Husky, I wondered if it had some kind of deficiency, but it was only later that I realised that pure-bred Huskies can have different coloured eyes. Accentuating its wolfish tendencies, this dog prefers to howl rather than bark.

But there are also other issues which arise, for instance many people adopt huskies seeing its good looks. But¬†if they don’t have the time and energy to keep their dog usefully engaged, this hyper-active dog can become destructive. This is the reason, why many Alsatians/German Shepherds (There is actually a very interesting story as to why GSDs came to be called Alsations)¬†and Dalmatians, which owners initially choose for their good looks end up in dog homes. People don’t realise that¬†working dogs can get easily bored and restless if they are cooped up in small flats without exercise.

Siberian Huskies have also lost out on the dog-racing front to hybrid breeds like the Alaskan Husky, which are faster and have less hair. Nowadays you can spot the Siberian husky only in dog shows, recreational mushing or in homes.

Watching Walt Disney’s Eight Below, I was again filled with longings for this beautiful dog of the snowy regions.

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