Category Archives: Food for Thought

You Need Only One Hand to Help…


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Instead of using your two hands to pray to your God, gods and goddesses, why not stretch one hand and help the poor?

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Photo source: Unknown
Photo source: Unknown

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Lent is a solemn religious observance in the liturgical calendar of many Christian denominations. The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and covers a period of approximately six weeks before Easter Sunday.

For the Christians, prayer, fasting and almsgiving mark Lent. Of these three, almsgiving is the most neglected.

Why is almsgiving better than prayer and fasting?

In a way, almsgiving is a form of prayer and not just philanthropy.

Almsgiving is also a form of fasting. It requires some sacrifice. One has to give up something, even if it hurts. It is not just giving something to someone. It is “giving to God”.

The Book of Tobit, named after its principal character has an engaging story about Jewish piety and morality combined with folklore. The book has enjoyed wide popularity in both Jewish and Christian faiths. The inspired author of the book places a firm emphasis on almsgiving. The following verses 12:8-10 in Tobit is the only place in the Bible where prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are brought together.

Prayer with fasting is good. Almsgiving with righteousness is better than wealth with wickedness. It is better to give alms than to store up gold, for almsgiving saves one from death and purges all sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life, but those who commit sin and do evil are their own worst enemies. (Tobit 12:8-10)

Almsgiving is also a form of fasting. It requires some sacrifice. One has to give up something, even if it hurts. It is not just giving something to someone. It involves giving money, food, clothes, and materials or providing capabilities such as education, health facilities, and other amenities.

Almsgiving is a necessary part in all religions. It is “giving to God”.

Almsgiving in Buddhism

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Novices receive alms, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar (magical-world - flickr.com)
Novices receive alms, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar (magical-world – flickr.com)

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In Buddhism, a layperson shows respect to a monk, a nun, a spiritually developed person or to any other sentient being by giving alms. It is not charity. Being humble, giving alms, and showing respect to the monk or nun and the religious society, provides a symbolic binding of the layperson with the spiritual realm.

According to the Buddhists, the more a layperson gives without seeking anything in return the wealthier he or she will become. The act of giving destroys the acquisitive nature that leads to further suffering. Generosity is an act of merit performed by a donor to help the receiver.

The Mahayana Buddhist tradition emphasizes that generosity towards others as one of the perfections (paramita) as found in Lama Tsong Khapa’s ‘The Abbreviated Points of the Graded Path‘:

Total willingness to give is the wish-granting gem for fulfilling the hopes of wandering beings.

It is the sharpest weapon to sever the knot of stinginess.

It leads to Bodhisattva conduct that enhances self-confidence and courage. It is the basis of the universal proclamation of your fame and repute.

Realizing this, the wise rely, in a healthy manner, on the outstanding path of being ever-willing to offer completely their bodies, their possessions, and positive potentials.

The ever-vigilant lama has practiced like that.

If you too would seek liberation, Please cultivate yourself, in the same way.

Almsgiving in Hinduism

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Lady giving alms at the Temple, by Raja Ravi Varma, (1848–1906)
Lady giving alms at the Temple, by Raja Ravi Varma, (1848–1906)

In Hinduism, Bhiksha is a devotional offering. It is  usually food, presented at a temple to the destitute, a religious Brahmin, a swami, or an ascetic.

In Chapter XXIX of Vasishtha Samhita we find:

  1. Through Alms giving to poor obtains all his desires.
  2. (Even) longevity, (and he is born again as) a student of the Veda, possessed of beauty.
  3. He who abstains from injuring (sentient beings) obtains heaven.
  4. By entering a fire the world of Brahman (is gained).
  5. By (a vow of) silence (he obtains) happiness.
  6. By staying (constantly) in water he becomes a lord of elephants.
  7. He who expends his hoard (in gifts) becomes free from disease.
  8. A giver of water (becomes) rich by (the fulfilment of) all his desires.
  9. A giver of food (will have) beautiful eyes and a good memory.
  10. He who gives a promise to protect (somebody) from all dangers (becomes) wise.
  11. (To bestow gifts) for the use of cows (is equal to) bathing at all sacred places.
  12. By giving a couch and a seat (the giver becomes) master of a harem.
  13. By giving an umbrella (the giver) obtains a house.
  14. He who gives a House to a poor family obtains a town
  15. He who gives a pair of Shoes obtains a vehicle.
  16. Now they quote also (the following verses): Whatever sin a man distressed for livelihood commits, (from that) he is purified by giving land, (be it) even “a bull’s hide”.
  17. He who gives to a Brâhmana guest a vessel filled with water for sipping, will obtain after death complete freedom from thirst and be born again as a drinker of Soma.
  18. If a gift of one thousand oxen fit to draw a carriage (has been bestowed) according to the rule on a perfectly worthy man, that is equal to giving a maiden.
  19. They declare that cows, land, and learning are the three most excellent gifts. For to give learning is (to bestow) the greatest of all gifts, and it surpasses those (other gifts).
  20. A learned man who, free from envy, follows this rule of conduct which procures endless rewards, and which through final liberation frees him from transmigration.
  21. Or who, full of faith, pure, and subduing his senses, remembers or even hears it, will, freed from all sin, be exalted in the highest heaven.

According to the Hindu scriptures, every human owes five important karmic debts called pancha-maha-yajna: to gods, to ancestors, to guests, to mankind, and to nature.

Debt to the gods for their blessings. Repaid by rituals and offerings.

Debt to ancestors and teachers. Repaid by supporting them, having children of one’s own and passing along knowledge.

Debt to guests. Repaid by treating them as if they were gods visiting one’s home.

Debt to Mankind. Repaid by mutual cooperation and helping others by giving money, clothes, shelter and land to poor people, feeding the hungry, and helping orphans and destitute.

Debt to Nature. All humans are indebted to plants, trees, birds, animals and nature. Repaid by offering good will, food, water, or any other help that is appropriate.

So, a human to place himself in correct relations with the gods, ancestors, spirits, men, the cosmos, nature and himself must repay these debts during his or her lifetime.

Almsgiving in Islam

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Zakat (Source - infopediapk.weebly.com) (Custom)

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One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God and, so, human beings hold wealth in trust.

Islam divides the concept of charitable giving into Sadaqah or voluntary giving, and the Zakāt, an obligatory practice governed by a specific set of rules within Islamic jurisprudence.

Sadaqah is possibly a better translation of the Christian notion of ‘alms’.

Zakāt (Arabic: زكاة‎ ,”That which purifies”), the third of the five pillars of Islam, is the mandatory practice of charitable almsgiving. Every mentally stable, free, and financially sound adult Muslim, male or female, has to pay Zakāt to ease the economic hardship of others and end the inequality of financial status. Zakāt consists of giving 2.5% of one’s savings and business revenue and 5-10% of one’s harvest for distribution to the poor or needy, including slaves, debtors, and travelers. As such, Zakāt plays a much larger role in Islamic charity.

Qur'an 9_60

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah . And Allah is Knowing and Wise.
(The Holy Qur’an 9:60)

Almsgiving in Judaism

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Tzedakah pouch and gelt (Yiddish for coins - money) on fur-like padding. (Photo - Cheskel Dovid)

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In Hebrew, Tzedakah literally means righteousness but is commonly used to signify charity. In Judaism, Tzedakah refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just. It is considered one of the greatest deeds that a human can do. In practice, most Jews carry out Tzedakah by donating a part of their income to charitable institutions, or to needy people that they may come across.

Traditional Jews practice “ma’aser kesafim,” tithing 10% of their income to support those in need. Jewish farmers leave the corners of their fields for the starving to harvest for food. They do not pick up any grain dropped while harvesting because such food may benefit the starving.

Jews perform special acts of Tzedakah on significant days. At weddings, it is a tradition among couples to offer charity to symbolize the sacred character of  marriage. It is traditional at Passover to be welcome hungry strangers, and feed them at the table. During the joyous holiday of Purim, to increase the total happiness, it is obligatory for every Jew to offer food to one other person, and gifts to at least two poor people, in an amount that would equate to a meal each.

Jews are cautioned about how they give out Tzedakah  money. They should check the credentials and finances to be sure that their Tzedakah money will be used wisely, efficiently and effectively.

Also, they are admonished:

Do not rob the poor because they are poor, nor crush the needy at the gate;” (Proverbs 22:22)

Jews are taught that Tzedakah money was never theirs to begin with, rather, it always belongs to God, who merely entrusts them with it so that they may use it properly. Hence, it is their obligation to ensure that it is received by those deserving of it.

Almsgiving in Christianity

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James Tissot, "The Lord's Prayer" (1886-96)
James Tissot, “The Lord’s Prayer” (1886-96)

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Jesus spoke of almsgiving thus:

“[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.

When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”  (Matthew 6:1-4)

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I Got Out Early…


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj
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Source: Deccan Chronicle - Counter Point  March 27, 2015
Source: Deccan Chronicle – Counter Point March 27, 2015

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The following news appeared in the Deccan Chronicles on August 22, 2014. I wonder whether it has some relevance now.  You be the judge.

Restriction on wives, girlfriends for Indian players during tours?

DC | August 22, 2014

Mumbai: The Indian cricket board on Thursday denied the reports that they had restricted the WAGs (wives and girlfriends) of Indian cricketer during the away tours, according to reports.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India were contemplating to ban the players’ partners during the foreign tours. The rationale was that the Indian cricketers’ performance was getting affected by the presence of WAGs.

While the BCCI had allowed the wives of Ashwin, Vijay, Pujara, Binny and Gambhir to travel with them, the Indian cricket board had approved Virat Kohli’s request to allow Anushka Sharma to travel with him, reports.

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The Pallikaranai Wetland in Chennai: Part 2 – Now It Is a Concrete Jungle!


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Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj
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Why am I interested in wetlands and writing about them?

Because I am concerned.

My home in Jalladianpet in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland. Now, this once pristine idyllic wetland and many other smaller wetlands, pasture lands and patches of dry forest in Chennai are being transformed into concrete jungles!

That is why I am concerned.

I am not an environmentalist per se. I am just a layman. I seek protection of our natural environment from changes made by harmful human activities. I yearn for improvement in the quality of our surroundings worldwide for the benefit of our present and future generations.

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 My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.
My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.

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The Pallikarani wetland serves as nature’s primary aquifer recharge system for Chennai city. It harvests rainwater and the flood water during monsoons and thereby mitigates the desolation and suffering that floods could cause in low-lying areas in Chennai.

Four decades ago, this pristine idyllic wetland had a water spread of approximately 5,500 hectares estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965).

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A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)
A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

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Lamentably, over the years, the Chennai Metropolitan authorities without giving any thought to the future recklessly chose to dump almost 2,600 tonnes of garbage per day, which is over one-third of the garbage of the ever-growing metropolis, here in this climatic marshland.

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Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)
Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)

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Now, the water spread has shrunk to one-tenth its size due to indiscriminate dumping of city refuse; discharging of sewage; disgorging toxic waste products, etc.

Many nature lovers have photographed the current palpable and saddening state of the Pallikaranai wetland. On June 8, 2013, The Hindu published the article “The mired marsh” by Shaju John. He has augmented his article with photographs captured by him in the post-Photo file: The mired marsh.

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A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Thousands of tonnes of trash of all sorts containing non-biodegradable waste find their way to the wetland amidst the dumped refuse each day.

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Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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While traveling along the roads around the Velachery wetland one encounters the unbearable stench emanating from the decaying garbage hillock. Despite the widespread clamour to stop burning rubbish in the dump yard that stifles the air and impairs visibility of commuters, the incessant burning goes on.

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The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Despite the toxic smoke rag-pickers, mostly children living in inhospitable slums, frequent the garbage dumps.

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The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)
The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

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Air samples from the Perungudi garbage dumping yard registered the highest number of chemicals found in any Indian sample. The air contained cancer-causing and other harmful chemicals.

People living miles around the Pallikaranai wetland continually inhale the omnipresent malodorous virulent air. They suffer the stifling smoke. They have no other alternative than to use the polluted and poisoned ground water. These factors subject them to major wheezing and carcinogenic health hazards.

On June 15, 2012, a concerned Jaison Jeeva uploaded the following video on YouTube. It shows the fire accident that happened at the garbage dumps in Pallikaranai. The incident caused physical and mental disturbance to the people in the vicinity.

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There is an incredible rate of development in the Pallikaranai wetland. The sanctioning of many IT parks has resulted in countless high-rise office and residential buildings.

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A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road.  (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)
A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

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The campus of the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Engineering and Dental Colleges, and Hospitals have been built on the marshland.

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One of the flyovers constructed  in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)
One of the flyovers constructed in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)

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Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo - Simply CVR)
Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo – Simply CVR)

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All these encroachments have led to building infrastructures such as the Velachery MRTS railway station, the flyovers, the road connecting old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram, etc., in the midst of the marshland.

Sadly, all these rampant developments have shrunk the water spread.

With policies in place to crack down on encroachment, illegal waste disposal, and poaching, there is still hope for saving the Pallikaranai wetland.

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Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo:  M. Karunakaran)
Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo: M. Karunakaran)

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In 2007, to protect the remaining wetland from shrinking further, 317 hectares of the marsh were declared by notification as a reserve forest by the State of Tamilnadu.

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Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

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Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve  showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh
Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh

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Even so, it is the opinion of the scientists and researchers involved in the study of the wetland that an additional 150 hectares of undeveloped region located on both sides of the road connecting old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh should also be declared a forest reserve.

An official release on Friday, June 9, 2006 the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) underscores the need to protect the rare species of fauna and flora in the ecologically important wetland of Chennai.

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Dumping sewage into the Pallikaranai marshland.
Dumping sewage into the Pallikaranai marshland.

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To retain the groundwater recharging potential the TNPCB banned the dumping of garbage and discharge of sewage and industrial effluents into the Pallikaranai marshland. The TNPCB directive states that untreated sewage should be discharged only into the sewage treatment plant operated by Metrowater at Perungudi. The TNPCB warned that violators of its directions would be Penalized without prior notice under section 15 (1) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

On June 10, 2006, The Hindu in an article titled “Dumping banned in Pallikaranai marsh” said:

The punishment under this section involves imprisonment for a term, which may extend to five years or with fine, which may extend to Rs.1 lakh, or both. In cases of repeated violation, the penalty involves additional fine, which may extend to Rs. 5,000 for every day during which the contravention occurs, after the conviction for the first violation.

Further, if the violation continues beyond a period of one year after the date of first conviction, the offender is liable to be imprisoned for a term that may extend to seven years. According to the press note, the basis of the directive is a routine inspection of the Perungudi dump site and the marsh zone by the TNPCB, which found that unsegregated garbage along with other wastes emptied into the marshland by the Chennai Corporation and other local bodies as well as private agencies. This garbage is burnt by ragpickers, causing nuisance to the residential areas and setting off air-pollution. The inspection also observed that untreated sewage collected from nearby areas in tanker lorries was being discharged into the marshland.

The TNPCB has also constituted a Local Area Environment Committee to protect the marsh. The public can refer any complaint on discharge of sewage or solid wastes into the marsh area by any agencies to this committee through the District Environmental Engineer, TNPCB, Tambaram (Phone 22266239). The Pollution Control Board’s announcement comes just days after a non-governmental initiative released the results of a recent study on air quality.

In April 2008, the Madras High Court directed the State Government of Tamilnadu to remove all encroachments on the Pallikaranai marshlands. The Madras High Court also directed the Chennai Corporation not to allow the four municipalities – Pallavaram, Madipakkam, Kottivakkam and Valasaravakkam – to dump garbage at Perungudi after April 30, 2008.

On April 3, 2008, The Hindu in an article titled “Court directive on Perungudi garbage dump” said:

Passing interim orders on two writ petitions, the Bench said the State Government should not permit any construction activity on the marshlands. The court appointed a six-member expert committee, with Sheela Rani Chunkath, Chairperson, TIIC, as its convener to inspect the Perungudi Municipal Solid Waste Yard, CMWSSB treatment plant and the surrounding areas and submit a report regarding the suitability of the present site for usage and the continuance as a municipal solid waste ground and sewage treatment plant; to review compliance of various legislations, guidelines, rules and regulations in relation to dumping of solid waste and discharge of sewage; to review the earlier studies done by various agencies, and the measures taken and proposed to protect the Pallikaranai marsh and render suggestions for restoration and protection of the marsh.

The committee would also suggest measures for remediation of the land, ground water, flora and fauna in the marsh and Seevaram, Pallikaranai, Thoraipakkam and Perungudi villages. It would also consider the cumulative aspects of dumping of garbage, discharge of sewage and conversion of the marshlands to other use and suggest scientific alternative methods of dumping of garbage and discharge of sewage in the light of the methods in other countries.

The committee would conduct public hearing to ascertain the views of the residents of the four villages. The report should be made within six months, the Bench said.

Pending receipt of the report, the Chennai Corporation was directed not to permit their trucks to dump garbage on either side of the road and to remove the garbage already dumped on either side of 60 Feet Road abutting the residential areas and also the 200 feet road, within four weeks. It should demarcate the area of 200 acres which had been allotted to it by CMWSSB and further demarcate 106 acres which was actually used for dumping waste. Security at the dumping site should be increased to prevent incidents of fire. Appropriate scheme for segregating biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes should be evolved and submitted to the court within three months.

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board in its report in respect of the landfill at Perungudi submitted that the Chennai Corporation had not complied with the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000.

Seven years have passed since then, but even now, dumping of garbage and sewage in the Pallikaranai marshland by the Chennai metropolitan authorities goes on unabated.

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The Pallikaranai Wetland in Chennai: Part 1 – Flora and Fauna


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Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj
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Pallikaranai marshland (Photo : T.V. Antony Raj)
Pallikaranai marshland (Photo : T.V. Antony Raj)

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Why am I interested in wetlands and writing about them?

Because I am concerned.

I am not an environmentalist per se. I am just a layman. I seek protection of our natural environment from changes made by harmful human activities. I yearn for improvement in the quality of our surroundings worldwide for the benefit of our present and future generations.

My home in Jalladianpet in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland. Now, this once pristine idyllic wetland and many other smaller wetlands, pasture lands and patches of dry forest in Chennai are being transformed into concrete jungles!

That is why I am concerned.

What is a wetland?

A wetland is technically defined as:

An ecosystem that arises when inundation by water produces soils dominated by anaerobic processes, which, in turn, forces the biota, particularly rooted plants, to adapt to flooding.

Wetlands consist of hydric soil, which supports aquatic plants. The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other landforms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation that adapts to its unique soil conditions  and the fauna that inhabit it

There are four main kinds of wetlands: marsh, swamp, bog and fen. Sub-types include mangrove, carr, pocosin, and varzea. Some experts also include wet meadows and aquatic ecosystems as additional wetland types.  (Read my article: Save the Wetlands)

Wetlands of Tamilnadu, India

There are three wetlands in the state of Tamilnadu, in India: Point Calimere,  Kazhuveli, and  Pallikaranai.

In 1985-86, the National Wetland Conservation and Management Programme (NWCMP) of the Government of India listed Point Calimere, Kazhuveli Wetland, and the Pallikaranai Marsh among the 94 identified wetlands in India.

Point Calimere, Kazhuveli  wetland, and the Pallikaranai wetland are three of the 94 identified wetlands under

The forests of Point Calimere 

Point Calimere, also called Cape Calimere (Tamil: கோடியக்கரை Kodiakkarai), is a low headland on the Coromandel Coast, in the Nagapattinam district of the state of Tamil Nadu, India.

The forests of Point Calimere are also known as the Vedaranyam forests. They are the last remnants of the East Deccan dry evergreen forests.

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Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary, Map (Author: Marcus334/Wikimedia Commons)
Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary, Map (Author: Marcus334/Wikimedia Commons)

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On June 13, 1967, the Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary with an area of 24.17 square km was created. The sanctuary includes the cape with its three natural habitat types: dry evergreen forests, mangrove forests, and wetlands.

The Kazhuveli wetland

Kazhuveli the second largest brackish water lake in South India lies adjacent to the Bay of Bengal along the East Coast Road. It is located about 18 km north of Pondicherry in the Tindivanam Taluk of Villupuram district in Tamil Nadu.

Once a mangrove forest, Kazhuveli, has degraded over a period of time. It encompasses about 15 villages with a catchment area of 4,722 hectares. A total of 196 minor irrigation tanks and ponds drains into the Kazhuveli wetlands.

Now, the entire ecosystem of Kazhuveli wetland is completely destroyed and denuded by human inference, chiefly, due the growth of salt pans and aggressive fishing. It is one of the prioritized wetlands of Tamil Nadu.

The Pallikaranai wetland

City in the background of Pallikaranai wetland (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)
City in the background of Pallikaranai wetland (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

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The Pallikaranai wetland is among the few and last remaining natural wetlands of South India.

Historically, a large part of South Chennai was a flood plain composed of the large Pallikaranai wetland, smaller satellite wetlands, large tracts of pasture land and patches of dry forest.

The Pallikaranai wetland is a freshwater marshland spanning 31 square miles (80 square km). It is the natural primary aquifer recharge system for Chennai city.

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Source: campbelltown.sa.gov.au
Source: campbelltown.sa.gov.au

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The Pallikaranai wetland situated adjacent to the Bay of Bengal, is about 12.5 miles (20 Km) south of the city centre. Bounded by Velachery (north), Okkiyam Thuraipakkam (east), Medavakkam (south) and Kovilambakkam (west), the Pallikaranai wetland is the only surviving wetland ecosystem of the city.

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Map of Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest.
Map of Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest.

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The terrain consists of fresh/saline water bodies, reed beds, mud flats and floating vegetation.

The original expanse of the Pallikaranai wetland, estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965) was about 5,500 hectares. This vast area has now been reduced to about 600 hectares.

Flora and Fauna

Vedanthangal bird sanctuary in the Kancheepuram District in Tamil Nadu, India, is 47 miles (75 km) from Chennai. It hosts more than 40,000 birds (including 26 rare species), from various parts of the world during the migratory season every year.

Now, Pallikaranai wetland is almost four times the size of the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary and is literally a treasury of bio-diversity.

The Pallikaranai wetland has several rare and endangered species of flora and fauna. The marsh acts as a forage and breeding ground for thousands of migratory birds from various places within and outside the country. Bird watchers opine that the number of bird species sighted in the Pallikaranai wetland is definitely more than what they get to see in the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary.

Figures of the number of fauna and flora found in the Pallikaranai wetland differ among scholars conducting research here.

Among the many quiet contributors to the mapping of India’s natural treasures is Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan, Smithsonian Fellow and researcher, and managing trustee of Care Earth Trust. She obtained a Ph.D. in Biodiversity and Biotechnology from the University of Madras. She is best-known for her research work on biodiversity and studies in wetland ecology.

Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan
Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan

In 2003, the Tamilnadu State Pollution Control Board assigned to Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan the task of conducting a detailed study of Chennai’s last remaining wetland – the Pallikaranai marsh, which is suffering from degradation caused by human impact. The study had two components – to document the biodiversity and to map the extent of the marsh to define or identify a viable unit of management.

In her work “Protecting wetlands” published on August 10, 2007, Current Science 93 (3): 288–290, she states that the heterogeneous ecosystem of the Pallikaranai marshland supports about 337 species of floras and faunas:

GROUP NUMBER OF SPECIES
Birds 115
Plants 114
Fishes 46
Reptiles 21
Mammals 10
Amphibians 10
Molluscs 9
Butterflies 7
Crustaceans 5
Total 337

Birds, fishes and reptiles are the most prominent of the faunal groups.

Dr. K .Venkataraman, Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI)
Dr. K. Venkataraman

However, on August 9, 2013, P. Oppili reported in The Hindu that Dr. K. Venkataraman, Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) while discussing the diversity of species in the marshland, as nine species of amphibians, 21 species of reptiles, 72 species of birds, five species of mammals, 38 species of fish, nine species of shells and 59 species of aquatic and terrestrial insects had been recorded, besides a good number of plankton.

The Pallikaranai wetland is the home to some of the most endangered birds such as the glossy ibis, gray-headed Lapwings and pheasant-tailed Jacana.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana spotted in Pallikaranai Wetland, Chennai (Photo: Sudharsun Jayaraj)
Pheasant-tailed Jacana spotted in Pallikaranai Wetland, Chennai (Photo: Sudharsun Jayaraj)

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Purple Swamphen-Moorhen in Pallikaranai wetland, Chennai (Photo - Sudharsun Jayaraj)
Purple Swamphen-Moorhen in Pallikaranai wetland, Chennai (Photo – Sudharsun Jayaraj)

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FulvourWhistlingDucks (Photo: GnanaskandanK)
FulvourWhistlingDucks (Photo: GnanaskandanK)

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Cormorants, darters, herons, egrets, open-billed storks, spoonbills, white ibis, little grebe, Indian Cormorants, darters, herons, egrets, open-billed storks, spoonbills, white ibis, little grebe, Indian moorhen, Black-winged Stilts, purple moorhens, warblers, coots and dabchicks have been spotted in large numbers in the marshland.

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Russel's Viper (Source:  umich.edu)
Russel’s Viper (Source: umich.edu)

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The Pallikaranai wetland is also home to some of the most endangered reptiles such as the Russell’s viper.

About 114 species of plants are found in the wetland, including 29 species of grass. These plant species include some exotic floating vegetation such as water hyacinth and water lettuce.

Since 2002,  presence of new plants and  reptiles have been recorded.

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Do You Have Dutch Courage?


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Sipping off the ‘head’ of a liqueur at Wynand Fockink. (Source: whatsupwithamsterdam.com)
Sipping off the ‘head’ of a liqueur at Wynand Fockink. (Source: whatsupwithamsterdam.com)

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What happens to a person after he or she consumes any form of alcohol?

First, it gives the drinker the gift of the gab if he is not dumb. Then it gives him ‘Dutch courage’ also called ‘liquid courage’ or potvaliancy  that makes him feel brave enough to become boisterous and violent.

Dutch courage may also be used as a synonym for Jenever, the juniper-flavored national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium, from which Dutch gin evolved. Even now, Jenever is famous in Holland as an “old man’s drink”.

Jenever became popular in England during the time of King William III, better known as William of Orange (1650-1702), who also governed as Stadtholder over Holland, Zeeland, Gelderland, Utrecht, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic.

A few entomologists claim that the term ‘Dutch courage’ was first referred to in Edmund Waller’s Instructions to a Painter (1666):

The Dutch their wine and all their brandy lose,
Disarm’d of that from which their courage grows.”

During the Thirty Years’ War, the English soldiers  noted Jenever’s bravery-inducing effects on Dutch soldiers and dubbed it “Dutch Courage”. In turn, the English soldiers believing Jenever’s warming properties on the body in cold weather and its calming effect drank it before going into battle. English speakers knew the famous spirit as “Dutch gin”.

According to some other entomologists, the origin of the phrase “Dutch courage” dates to 1805-1815 almost two centuries after the relevant wars.

But no matter the level of intoxication that alcohol induces, most people would not dare to pick a fight with an elephant unless Dutch courage sets in.

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A tusker in the  Kruger National Park in South Africa (Source: gardenwebs.net)
A tusker in the Kruger National Park in South Africa (Source: gardenwebs.net)

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The Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in South Africa. The following video shot there shows a drunkard challenging a wild elephant with Dutch courage. Surprisingly, the tusker retreats.

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But, this was not the case recently when a drunkard consumed by Dutch courage ignoring the pleas of the horrified onlookers infuriated an elephant in the Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka. That is pure Dutch courage. See what happened!

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Video: “I Will Fight Back”


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Stop violence against women

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Easy access to the internet in the current decade has allowed women to start online activism and empower themselves. They use social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. The internet allows women freedom to voice their opinions and organize campaigns for equality rights.

On May 29, 2013, three women started an online campaign to take down various misogynistic pages on Facebook that spread hatred toward women. In just one week, the campaigners roused hundreds of thousands of supporters who are part of the “great feminist revival.” The social networking giant Facebook caved into pressure. The campaign succeeded where many previous efforts failed. Facebook took action over contents that celebrated rape and domestic violence.

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I Will Fight Back.
I Will Fight Back.

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The following video titled “Woman Empowerment – I will fight back” by Unseen Passage Pictures is an eye opener. It carries the message that if women do not empower themselves, then nobody will.

While many praise the audacity of the young woman there are a few detractors, as expected, with their sarcastic, derogatory remarks. Some even insinuate that the video is a concocted one implying that the woman is an actor with makeup for bruises for the ‘skit’, and lying.

Whatever it is, the video impressed me.

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Here is a transcription of the young woman’s rendering of the incident.

Hi,

I usually don’t talk like this. It’s because my tooth is broken.

Actually, yesterday I went shopping with a friend to Sarojini Market. I love street shopping, but you know how crowded it is.

We were checking out some dresses in a shop. Suddenly, somebody touched me from behind. I felt very  uncomfortable. I screamed out of fear and everybody around got to know what just happened.

It was very embarrassing. But that guy was simply walking away with his friends, laughing at me. I thought somebody would catch hold of them; somebody would take an action against them. But everyone was staring at me only as if I had done something wrong. Some people were even laughing. But then, an uncle stepped forward and showed some courage and he said:

“Dear, they are mannerless people. Nobody can do anything about it. They are incorrigible. You better take care of yourself and try wearing decent clothes.”

No. No. I didn’t wear a bikini to go shopping. I was just wearing a jeans and a sleeveless shirt. But, I am just another helpless woman, isn’t it? So, obviously everybody had to judge me only like they always do.

Whenever I am alone at the bus stop waiting for the bus or when I come late from the office and my colleague drops me, when I am with a guy, when I ask for help, or when I wear western clothes, and also when they feel like judging, they judge.

But, I am just another helpless woman. So, I said: “Uncle, it’s okay. I will handle.”

I called the woman helpline and told them my current location. Then, I ran behind them, grabbed him by his collar and slapped him hard. They hit me back. Then, people around came to help me and beat them up badly. You should have seen their wounded faces. They all are behind the bars now charged with ‘Women Harassment’.

Then, I understood one thing that in our country, it is very important to take your own stand. If we didn’t empower ourselves, then nobody will.

Take your own stand. Only we are responsible for ourselves.

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A Daughter in Bengaluru.


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Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Stop violence against women

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Man beats up daughter

A shameful incident happened in Bengaluru, Karnataka, India on March 12, 2015.

Ms. Nivedita Chakraborty, a Program Manager at NetApp, posted on her Facebook page the details with related photographs.

Nivedita Chakraborty
Nivedita Chakraborty

Archana Sharad
Archana Sharad

On their way to their office Nivedita Chakraborty and Archana Sharad were “shocked to see a girl aged about 25 being beaten black and blue by a strong, well-built man, with at least 50 people standing on the street and simply watching.

The man, grabbing the girl by her hair, slapped her. When she fell down on the road, he kicked her groin.

Father kicking daughter

Nivedita and Archana rushed out of their car. Archana pushed the man back in an attempt to loosen his grip on the girl while Nivedita tried to free the girl’s hair from his clutches. Once they freed the girl, the two brave women along with the rescued girl sought refuge inside their car.

Father

But the man sat on the car bonnet and did not let them drive away.

The girl named Surya told her two rescuers that she was from Tamilnadu now working in Bangalore and the man was her father, a police sub-inspector from Madurai, Tamilnadu, India.

Surya’s parents on hearing rumors of their daughter having a love affair had come over to Bangalore to end the affair. When she denied that she was not having an affair, her parents had simply refused to listen or believe her. The father wanted to take her back to Madurai and forcibly marry her off to someone of their choice.

Her mother, a teacher in Madurai, a silent spectator during the incident until then bawled out blaming her daughter for the “shame she has brought upon her family”.

Nivedita called the police and they came after about 30 minutes and took Surya and her parents to the Ulsoor Police station.

Nivedita says:

“Not only, was the parents behavior shocking and gruesome , but what was more shameful was the silent spectators on the street who stood watching the entire drama, not willing to save the girl or aid and support us, who were at least trying.

If a policeman chooses to physically and publicly abuse his adult daughter , how are we safe in the hands of such ‘protectors of law’?

If a teacher mistrusts and blames her adult daughter while supporting her husband’s abusive behavior, how can we entrust our children’s grooming to such ‘educators and shapers of young India’?”

We know what you women are upto

Yesterday, a Waseem Memon posted on the Facebook page of Archana Sharad:

I got a call from Police commissioner’s office, Madurai. The guy’s name is Jayaraman and he is no more into active service. He was suspended two years ago.

PS: The sad part is that no FIR was filed against that ******* as the family decided to amicably resolve the case after relatives intervened. (Got this info from Ulsoor Police Station).

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Note: The photographs included in this post were gathered from the Facebook pages of Ms. Nivedita Chakraborty and Ms. Archana Sharad.

 

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Babies and Crayons…


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Myself 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Newborn baby (Source: pregnancyandbaby.com)
Newborn baby (Source: pregnancyandbaby.com)

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Newborn babies are like the crayons in a new pack, perfect, identical except for their hues.

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Source: fakinit.typepad.com
Source: fakinit.typepad.com

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Soon, they become a bunch of sharp, pointed, and then ground down, blunt, distinguishable smudged stumps along with others.

Well, this is life!

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Mr. Yo: “The Boss of Cleaning”


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Myself 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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A smoker walking in front of you throws the cigarette butt on the sidewalk. The teenager seated on the park bench crumbles the chocolate wrapper and throws it on the grass. The satiated taxi driver throws the parcel of leftover food through the window of his cab for the stray dogs, creating a mess on the street.

These are incidents we see daily around us.

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Garbage not going anywhere (Source: thehindu.com)
Garbage not going anywhere (Source: thehindu.com)

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 Now, what will you or I do? Usually, we just ignore these litterbugs and will let the tossed items accumulate as garbage for the municipal garbage workers to pick them up the following day.

Omar Faruk, a 20-year-old Bahraini youth produced the video I have included here titled “Millionaire Garbage Man” and uploaded it on YouTube. The video which has received an overwhelming response online shows that “actions speak louder than words.” It features a Korean picking up trash in the suburban neighborhood of Seef in Manama, the capital of Bahrain.

The Korean do-gooder identifies himself thus:

“I have two names. My first name is Yo. My second name is ‘The Boss of Cleaning‘.”

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Mr. Yo - The Boss of Cleaning (Custom)

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Korean-born Yo, a millionaire investor living in Bahrain for the past 11 years is not only interested in keeping the streets clean, but also strives to keep it so. He wants everyone to enjoy living in a clean and healthy neighborhood devoid of litter. Every morning he wakes up before dawn. His first task of the day is clean up the streets in his neighbourhood. He also sorts out the garbage he collects, making it easier for recycling.

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Mr. Yo - A role model for the present-day youth.
Mr. Yo – A role model for the present-day youth.

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Yo is a simple, modest person and is a true role model for the present day youth to follow.

There is a lot of garbage and this makes people sick. It causes problems,” explains Yo.

The recycling bags Yo uses are from Korea.

Yo speaks Arabic. He says:

I’m just cleaning the place I’m living in. It’s my right...”

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The Five Days of December 1952 When the Killer Smog Blanketed London.


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Myself 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Smokestack belching dense dark smoke.
Smokestack belching dense dark smoke.

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The modern fight against environmental pollution around the world owes much to the tragedy that befell Greater London, about 63 years ago. The haphazard use of coal brought the country to the brink of a frightening black disaster on December 5, 1952.

During the Industrial Revolution, from about 1760 to around 1840, there was a transition to new manufacturing processes. The main factor in this transition was the change from wood and other biofuels to coal.

Indiscriminate use of coal drove Britain, the most powerful empire in the world. Tall smokestacks became the symbols of the industrial age in Britain. The appalling use of coal in industries, for generating electricity, heating homes, for cooking, etc., was frightening. Trains, boats, iron, steel, everyday items used coal. In London, it was like millions of micro-volcanoes erupting all at once. It was as if London was eating coal to survive.

People were burning large quantities of poor quality coal and emitting pollution at low elevations. The pollution from home chimneys was double the amount of the industries.

In the Victorian era, London was well known for its romantic fog that covered the city for 90 days each year for decades. But as the years passed by, this romantic fog and the smoke and fog turned into a poisonous cloud of smog (smoky fog) during each winter. In his book “Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (18591930) wrote:

In the third week of November, in the year 1895, a dense yellow fog settled down upon London. From the Monday to the Thursday I doubt whether it was ever possible from our windows in Baker Street to see the loom of the opposite houses. … But when, for the fourth time, after pushing back our chairs from breakfast we saw the greasy, heavy brown swirl still drifting past us and condensing in oily drops upon the windowpanes, my comrade’s impatient and active nature could endure this drab existence no longer. He paced restlessly about our sitting- room in a fever of suppressed energy, biting his nails, tapping the furniture, and chafing against inaction.

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A view  of Battersea Power Station in 2012 from River Thames.
A view of Battersea Power Station in 2012 from River Thames.

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Construction of the first phase, the A Station of the Battersea Power Station, began in March 1929. It first generated electricity in 1933, but was not completed until 1935. The total cost of its construction was £2,141,550. It burned approximately 10,000 tons of coal each week to supply one fifth of the electricity for the entire city of London.

Washing off the accumulated soot in London.
Washing off the accumulated soot in London.

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Slowly, with time, London became completely covered in soot.

In late 1952 an unusual cold cinch had gripped London for weeks. On December 5, 1952, the day the disaster began, Londoners awoke to find a clear sky, but coal fireplaces worked overtime to fight the chill in the air. As the day progressed, a light veil of fog began to blanket the city. In the afternoon, the fog mixed with the thousands of tons of soot being pumped into the skies of London by million or more coal stoves, home chimneys, from local factories and industrial smokestacks began to turn a sickly shade of yellow and settled in the London basin.

Smog was nothing new for Londoners, but on that day, this thick sulfurous yellow “pea souper” quickly thickened into a poisonous brew, unlike anything the city had ever experienced before. A high-pressure system parked over London caused a temperature inversion. The air about a thousand feet above the surface, warmer than that at ground level kept the smog under the clouds and prevented it from rising. And, there was no breeze to disperse and dissipate the soot-laden soup.

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The Killer Smog That Blanketed London, 63 Years Ago (Source: history.com)
The Killer Smog That Blanketed London, 63 Years Ago (Source: history.com)

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For five days from Friday, December 5 to Tuesday, December 9, 1952, the Great Smog paralyzed life in London. Poisonous smog closed down all establishments.  Day became as dark as night.

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People found it difficult to breathe the murky air.
People found it difficult to breathe the murky air.

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People found it difficult to breathe the murky air. The smog was so dense that residents of the Isle of Dogs section of the city reported they were unable to see their feet as they walked. It was as if they needed a blind person to lead them home.

The dense smog crippled all transportation. Boat traffic on the Thames came to a halt. Bus conductors holding flashlights and torches walked in front of the double-deckers to guide drivers. Flights were grounded, and trains canceled. Only the Underground was in service.

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The ambulance drivers had to rely on the police and people holding live burning torches s to show them the way.
The ambulance drivers had to rely on the police and people holding live burning torches s to show them the way.

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London was completely silent. Only sirens of ambulances which brought those whose lives were in danger to the hospitals was heard. The ambulance drivers had to rely on the police and people holding live burning torches to show them the way.

Even at mid-noon, automobile drivers and motorcyclists turned on their headlights. They hung their heads out the windows in a futile attempt to inch ahead through the yellow gloom. Many abandoned their vehicles.

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Traffic police used large lamps to light themselves up to avoid getting hit by vehicles.
Traffic police used large lamps to light themselves up to avoid getting hit by vehicles.

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Traffic police used large lamps to light themselves up to avoid getting hit by vehicles.

A greasy grime covered exposed surfaces. Pedestrians with their faces and noses blackened by the smog tried not to slip on the greasy black ooze that coated the sidewalks.

People wore face masks to go to shopping, to walk their dogs. Students wore face masks to go to school.

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People wore face masks even to kiss.
People wore face masks even to kiss.

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People wore face masks even to kiss.

Fearing the children might get lost in the smog, authorities advised parents not to send their children to school.

Fearing the children might get lost in the smog, authorities advised parents not to send their children to school.

Criminals emboldened by the thick dark smog resorted to purse snatching and burglaries and then vanished into the cloaking darkness.

Birds lost in the fog crashed into buildings.

Breeders fashioned improvised gas masks for their cattle by soaking grain sacks in whiskey. Eleven prize heifers brought to Earls Court for the famed Smithfield Show choked to death.

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All weekend soccer matches were canceled.
All weekend soccer matches were canceled.

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All weekend soccer matches were canceled. However, Oxford and Cambridge, carried on with their annual cross-country competition at Wimbledon Common. As runners materialized out of the thick haze, the track marshals shouted continually, “This way, this way, Oxford and Cambridge.”

Since the smog seeped even inside closed buildings, movie theaters closed down as the yellow haze made it impossible for the audience to see the screen. The opera houses too put up their shutters as the audience could no longer see the performers on the stage due to the acrid smog.

The unparalleled admissions to hospitals and the great number of pneumonia reports overwhelmed the medical authorities.

Sadly, the Great Smog was not only a nuisance, it was also lethal for those with respiratory and cardiovascular problems, the elderly, the babies and the infants. Amidst coughing and the wheezing, death came silently to London. The smog literally choked thousands to death. Deaths from bronchitis and pneumonia increased more than sevenfold and the death rate in the East End increased ninefold.

Eventually, the siege abated on December 9, 1952 when cold winds from the west swept the toxic smog away from London and carried out to the North Sea. Yet, the detrimental effects lingered on, and death rates remained above normal into the summer.

Initial reports estimated that upwards of 4,000 died prematurely in the first week of the Great Smog. The mortality rate remained high for a couple of months after the Great Smog. People realized the impact of the deadly Smog when the undertakers ran out of caskets and the florists out of flowers and bouquets.

There were 12,000 unexplained deaths and additional deaths during the episode and in the two months after the abatement of the peak smog.

A preliminary report not finalized yet attributed these later deaths to an influenza epidemic. New evidence shows that only a fraction of the deaths could be from influenza.

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The lungs of the dead confirmed that they died due to prolonged exposure to black carbon.

The lungs of the dead confirmed that they died due to prolonged exposure to black carbon.

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Thorough examination of the lungs of the dead confirmed that they died due to prolonged exposure to black carbon, a by-product of burning coal and a short-term overexposure to a high concentration of fine particulate matter containing heavy metals.

Initially, the British government was reluctant to act in the wake of the Great Smog.

The Coalition for Clean Air calculated the concentration of pollution in London at the time. They concluded that it might have surpassed the current pollution in China by a large margin even though PM2.5 was not measured at the time. During the Great Smog, the concentration of sulfur dioxide was 190 times higher than the WHO standard.

Following the investigation, the British Parliament passed the Clean Air Act of 1956, which restricted the burning of coal in urban areas. The Act authorized local councils to set up smoke-free zones.

The public received grants to convert from coal stoves to alternative heating systems.

It took years, for London to transit from its primary source of heating coal to gas, oil, and electricity. During the transition period, deadly smogs occurred periodically, such as one that killed 750 people in 1962. But none of them reached the scale of the Great Smog that descended upon London on December 5, 1952.

In the 1960s, after the Great Smog in London, other countries began to reduce and control their use of coal.

Now, India, a country suffering from severe air pollution is also on a similar footing. Soon, India will become the world’s second largest consumer of coal. Yet, as of today, India has not yet set standards for emissions of important pollutants in its industries.

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