Tuesday, February 20, 2007


They are all over campus, and get called by all kinds of names, herons, storks, cranes. Get it right people, they are Cattle egrets! And while they are closely related to those water-birds, they aren't actually that attached to water. Which is how they got to be on our relatively dry campus.

They get their names from the fact that they are seen following grazing cattle all over the countryside, picking up the insects kicked up from the grass. The downward bent head and intense stare, followed by a quick side to side bobbing of the head to judge distance by parallax, and then, wham, strike. A speared insect and a happy bird. But there are no cattle on campus and the birds needed to kick up their own prey.

Until they found a little trick. It probably began with wanting to cool off. They leave a little dish of water out for the birds in front of the library, I've seen them stand in it during the hot part of the day. Then I noticed the thing in the second picture. A bunch of them have learned to follow the gardener who waters the lawns everyday.

Maybe it was a cooling off instinct, and I was intrigued. So I watched them one afternoon, it was a cooler afternoon than many. They did follow the gardener around, not oblivious but not too wary of me. While they did seem to enjoy the water, the principal reason behind this activity seemed to be to pick up the insects the strong jet of water kicked up!

Now an aside and a rant, I watched them a while maybe an hour and half. The hose was running full blast the whole time, it was still running when I left. This lawn gets sprayed everyday. That night there was no water in my hostel, the previous day there was no water all day at my lab!

We got a mail a weekish ago asking us to conserve water and I believe this is a sensible thing to ask, we are very wasteful here. But the excesses are hardly happening in the labs, they are here. Spraying thousands of litres on a lawn in a year in which Bangalore has seen next to no rain!

I don't know how these things function, or actually I know. There is no regulation whatsoever of who does what! The nursery knows not or cares not of water shortages and no one will tell them. Its my pet peeve, this water business. A sump overflowed for three days before the same water dept turned up to fix it, I called thrice! Ah and calling! The folks who take civil/electrical complaints in this place will take complaints only in person! You can't email them or even call them. So you've to leave your lab during working hours and make a trip to their office to report a dripping tap which will maybe kinda get fixed. And working hours is very open you know, they turn up at 10:30, leave for coffee, lunch till two...indian govt office! So guess how many people actually report leaking taps? And then theres the leaking overheads, don't get me started...

So yes, I'll conserve water and for every drop I save, theres a tanker flowing down the drain! Here's a bit from Vikram Seth's 'The Elephant and the Tragopan' possibly based on the agitation against dams in Manipur and Nagaland. " Your pipes cry out for renovation./ Your storage tanks corrode and leak;/ The valves are loose, the washers weak./ I've seen the water gushing out/ From every reservoir and spout./ Repair them it will cost far less/ Than driving us to homelessness."

Like that story this one doesn't have an end, yet.

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