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Bngbirds 2nd Sunday outing: Lalbagh, 090619
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How many birds are we likely to see in Lalbagh on a summer morning? Should we come for the walk or go elsewhere? Will it be interesting? ...these are some of the questions I got prior to this Sunday's walk, and my answers were, respectively, "I don't know", "Come for the walk", and "Definitely"!

Apparently a lot of others agreed with me, so quite a large number of people gathered in front of the Glass House as Srinivas, patient as ever, began the walk. It was very nice to see several children and college students also in the group.

One of the big pluses of the Bngbirds 2nd Sunday Lalbagh walk is the presence of several very experienced ornithologists and naturalists (none of whom will agree that they are experts; they feel they are all still on the learning path!). Each of them is also generous in sharing their knowledge, so one winds up learning a lot about the natural world. So I would call the 2nd Sunday walks, Lessons in Lalbagh, of the most interesting kind!

Subbu pointed out the two kinds of Kites...Black and Brahminy...flying overhead, and sketched the difference in the shape of their tails. As we moved forward towards the Japanese (still spelt "Japanees" on the signboard!) garden and the huge Peepal tree, Prasad talked about the two common kinds of Barbets...and the nestling of the White-cheeked Barbet peeped out, delightfully, from its nest hole in the Peepal tree, looking at us with as much interest as we did at it. We learnt that the gape (the edges of the mouth) of the nestling would be black, prompting the parents to feed it.

Sunbirds and Flowerpeckers flitted about in the giant Bauhinia creeper, and Srinivas gave us some more intriguing knowledge...he pointed out the spectacular flowers of the Poison Arrow plant. Just like the better-known curare that south American tribes tip their arrows with, they also use the stropanthin from these flowers. He also told us how only one particular hummingbird can pollinate the plant.

There is not a single walk in Lalbagh with Srinivas where one will not learn something new and fascinating! Many of us have his booklet on the garden climbers of our city, and he never fails to point out other trees and plants,reeling off polysyllabic binomials with great ease and familiarity, while I struggle to remember them.

Cinereous Tits nesting in light poles, a White-throated Kingfisher flying by in a flash of electric blue, and Koels calling as they flew past, ruby-eyed and black as jet...These kept us occupied as we walked.

Near the MMT (Majestic Mango Tree!). the resident Spotted Owlet sat calmly, watching our antics as we juggled with cameras and binoculars. Meanwhile, some of us also learnt about other plants such as the Gardenia species nearby.

Being a large group, we sort of straggled apart; with some of us following Srinivas, some (especially the college students and researchers) going with MBK, who always entertains as he teaches, and some of us with Prasad. But we met up again at the lake, where a lot of waterfowl met our eyes. Little and Great Cormorants, quarrelsome Purple Swamphens, several Pond Herons looking for breakfast along the edges, a few Spot-billed Pelicans flying in formation, worthy of our Air Force...we took in all these sights, clucking over a dead Checkered Keelback (I call it an Ex-Checker!). At the ex-lotus pond (which has been cleared of all the lotus plants and now has a floating island of Canna flowers, which is not as lovely, I think!) we found a couple of Common Moorhens, black with red beaks, and some Flap-shelled Turtles sunning themselves, slick and wet from the water. As we slowly dispersed, I took some people to see the family of owlets that lives near the bamboo, and three of them sat in the Acacia tree and looked down at us, winking sleepily after their night of hunting activity.

It being butterfly season, we also spotted several butterflies, including the migrating Crows and Blue Tigers; each butterfly adds a spot of colour and interest to the walk. My nature guru, Karthik, who was responsible for introducing butterfly watching to Bangalore birders, is someone I remember with gratitude each time I see these beauties

Since we had all parked and entered from different gates, some of us who used the Siddapura gate went for breakfast and decided to try the newly-opened Puliyogare Point at the Madhavan Park junction. How was the food? Ah, that would be a restaurant review, which I must do separately!

The eBird list, compiled by Srushti (7 years old) is at

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S57220625

I have put up my photos on an FB album at

https://www.facebook.com/deemopahan/media_set?set=a.10156659731038878&type=3

and on a Flickr album at

https://www.flickr.com/photos/86494503@N00/albums/72157709001967902

(Yes, you can see the Poison Arrow flower!)

Looking forward to meeting some of you again next weekend.

Cheers, Deepa.

Theatre Review: "Ultimate Kurukshetra" by Actors Ensemble, Ranga Shankara, 060619
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The two Hindu epics are majestic pieces of literature, grand in their sweep of space and time; they stand as beacons of moral and ethical values, and we generally hold them in awe and reverence. We certainly do not associate them with humour, or light-heartedness.

So, when I got an email from Ram Ganesh Kamatham about his award-winning play, "Ultimate Kurkshetra" which deals not with the forefront, and the heroes of the Mahabharata, but of the very ordinary people who populate the fringes of the army on the eve of the great war of Kurukshetra, I was intrigued and rushed off to watch.

Ultimate Kurukshetra, RS, 060619, Citizen Matters

The first attraction was the sumptuous "ratha" (chariot) that stood on the stage, with several weapons such as the mace, spears and so on. When the play started, Yuyutsu, that single Kaurava who suffered pangs of conscience before the war, appeared, and took the trip to bathos with his announcement that he was called "Yuyu" for short! The other characters then took the stage: Sudarshana the warrior and Adi, his charioteer, who have been issued a chariot but no horses (Adi has been given a token and a promise of payment after the war!). Daksha, the mahout, who is busy calculating just how much poop and dung all those horses and elephants on the battlefield will generate. Maya, the courtesan, who wants to be paid for her work last night...and whose relationships with other men are slowly revealed, the last one being the high point or climax on which the interval happens. And most delightful of all, just as Adi says, "This is a battlefield, I don't see people wandering around"...there comes Vyasa himself, in a hilarious camp version, prancing through the battlefield as if it were a field of lilies, making observations that had the audience in splits, sporting a peacock-feather pen and a palm-leaf to write on.

Incident follows hilarious incident. Daksha has devised an elephant-head mask (it's that of a young elephant) that will prevent the war elephants from trampling on the warrior wearing them, even though the elephants themselves seem to have been conscripted from various other callings in temples and zoos! The mask is too small, and gets stuck on Sudarshana's head, prompting Vyasa, in one of his numerous appearances, to say that he's been looking for a scribe to write the epic (or as he calls it in true Malayali style, "yepick"!) and (with a sideways look at the so-called elephant) that he seems to have found one. Some important incidents from the epic are referred to, such as the lacquer house built by Purochana for the Pandavas, which is burnt to the ground to kill them off; Bheeshma's "iccha mrithyu" or death at his own wish; But through all the comedy runs the thread of deep philosophy: "When elephants fight, it is the grass that gets hurt" is one line that has stayed with me well after the play. Another beautiful and moving sequence is when Sudarshana describes how he, too, heard Krishna giving the Geetopadesha to Arjuna.The words showed the playwright's prose rising to poetry.

The play winds on to a very satisfactory conclusion, with Maya also entering the battle as a warrior, equal to the men she has been dealing with. As the conch of war sounds, Vyaas in his batik top and pista-green dhoti sums up the premise of the play, and Yuyutsu reappars to state it: the ultimate Kurukshetra is not a battle in the distant past, it is a battle in every day of our lives, with the choices we make.

Enjoying and laughing my way through the performance did not prevent me from noticing and appreciating the technical aspects of the production. First of all, even before we entered the theatre, the excellent three-page brochure gave us an introduction to the cast and crew, and what we should expect in the two hours ahead. The play won the Sultan Padamsee Award for Playwriting in 2011. Apart from the information about the cast and crew of the play and about the group itself, I enjoyed the director's note about the rasas to be found in the Mahabharata, and how he came to write the play, with a "notable absence of grandstanding champions, and a surfeit of flawed, under-equipped and everyday heroes doing their best to get by in a very challenging situation".

The stage design was done so that the cast could move backwards and forwards, to the side and centre of the stage, easily. The properties and production values were lavish and unstinted: the weapons, the golden chariot (alas, no horses to move it!) all added to the effect.

The costumes, too, showed that a lot of thought had gone into them...the photograph I have posted here, of the cast taking their bow after the performance, shows the spectrum of colours which made the costumes a visual spectacle.The dhotis, the courtesan's robes, the armour...all were well-designed and added to the eye appeal while not hindering the movements of the artistes.

Indeed, movement was something there was a lot of. Well-choreographed fight sequences (and most of the fights except perhaps the sequence of Arjuna and his bow, Gandiva, were not of the great war, but skirmishes amongst the characters, as personal frictions came in the way of being united as a part of the Kaurava army), the amorous moments between Maya, Sudarshana and Adi, they all flowed smoothly.

I must say that in the performance I watched, there was some fluffing of dialogues by the characters who played Daksha and Sudarshana; my daughter and son-in-law, who watched the play the next evening, reported much less of such glitches. In the main, though, the dialogues and the punch lines were well-delivered, and the audience's laughter showed their enjoyment.

The sound design, and the music, added to heighten the denouement of the play, and were very effective indeed, without resorting to the usual noises that sometimes accompany comedy on the stage.

The lighting was also excellent. Highlighting and general lighting, some strobe effects and other areas were handled very well, evoking the battlefield in both its majesty, and its bathos.

I must,however, add that not everyone in the audience liked the play equally; my daughter's friend,it appears, was "quite disgusted" and said that she did not like the great epic being thus parodied. Different opinions for different people, of course... I must say that I enjoyed the humour and the dialogue very much! I happen to think that a good satire pays its own tribute to the majesty of the original.

All in all, a rollicking run through the prelude to the great war of Kurukshetra, which yet showed up human frailties, egos and the interplay of personalities, and put forward, at the end, the truth that with every choice we make, we fight our own Kurukshetras every day.

Looking forward to the next play from the pen of this talented playwright!

"Ultimate Kurukshetra" by Actors Ensemble
Duration: 120 min with a 10 min interval
Written and directed by Ram Ganesh Kamatham
Designed and Produced by Mallika Prasad Sinha
Language: English
6 and 7 June, 2019, Ranga Shankara

Cast:
Vyasa: Anil Abraham
Adi: Harish Seshadri
Sudarshana: Karn Malhotra
Daksha: Anirudh Acharya
Maya: Mallika Prasad Sinha
Yuyutsu: Ram Ganesh Kamatham

Costumes: Sankeerthi Aipanjiguly
Backdrop and Daksha's house: Prasanna D
Chariot and Floor: Sridhar Murthy
Tracks: Aman Anand, Snehal Pinto
Sound: Shashank
Make-up: Uma Maheshwar
Props: Ullas Hydoor
Lights: Naveen M G
Front of House: Vinay Shastri
Stage Manager: Lekha Naidu

Poster Design and Illustrations: Sachin Jadhav
Stills and Video: Cletus Rebello
Backstage Crew: Disha Rao, Srinivas Gowda, Prashanth M, Lakshyaraj Rathod
Venkatraman Balakrishna and Meera Sitaraman provided "Gandiva"

Patrons: Dr Vibha Prasad, Mrs Pratibha Prasad, Rahul Raghuram, Shantanu Prabhu, Swaroop Srinath.

You can see the trailer

here

Suitable for audiences over 13 years
Tickets: Rs.200.