Random Thoughts

Raghu Menon


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Trip to Agastya International Foundation

Was away for a couple of days (24th and 25th October 2019) visiting the Agastya International Foundation which is about 250 km away from my home town, Pondicherry.

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Lots and lots to share …!! Will compile the learnings and will share. Very interesting centre with a beautiful team of people striving hard to take science and maths to rural children through teachers’ orientation workshops, mobile science labs, science fairs, campus visits by children on a regular basis and much more.

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Interesting creations of art from kitchen utensils and with a real dog in the frame!!!

They also work in about 95 rural hamlets around their campus (located near Gudpuli/Kuppam in Andhra Pradesh GPS coordinates: 12° 45’ 33” N, 78° 19’ 38” E).

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Their architecture was very eco-friendly, using existing materials and rocks/pebbles etc. and constructed in line with the slopes. They also have an excellent waste/grey water recycling unit which they treat and use for irrigating their tree-saplings spread over about 170 acres or so.

 

With various sections of gardens including grasslands…

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Shrubs, medicinals…

 

With butterflies, birds, insects …

They also have a number of labs dedicated to science, maths, innovation, creativity, teacher-training, and even create your own lab. They do extensive teacher training programmes, get hundreds of children into the campus, also have an outreach programme in several states including Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Maharastra, etc. They have also the largest mobile science labs which tour the villages where children can not come to their campus.

Sri Aurobindo Society as part of its Svarnim Puducherry initiative, will be coordinating with Agastya International Foundation to bring the best practices of science /maths/environmental education to Puducherry, as an experiential learning programme where science is understood and experienced through a constructivist approach, where observation leads to generalization and finally theory and not the opposite way, as is mostly followed in current pedagogy.

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We had an extensive eco-walk with their Botanist Mr.Lakshya, who told us that the area receives only about 400 mm of rainfall on an average, and they have to use every drop of water through harvesting to keep the plants/trees live during their initial years. They started with the pioneer species which were local to the terrain and slowly increased the vegetative cover through the planned introduction of species. Over the years, the overall biodiversity has increased which is currently being documented.

The team from Svarnim Puducherry ..

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Looking for a prey, a winged visitor…

Caught this bird quite far through my camera zoom.

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It was raining slightly.  The bird was scanning the neighbourhood quite intensely.

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When I zoomed in a bit more, it looked as if it did not have a beak!

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It had a brown head with light brown body down.

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Not finding anything to eat – perhaps – it turned giving me a better view of it from its back. And before I could click again, it flew away.  But I could get a fairly good view of its feathers /wings.

Did some research and with help from my friends, it seems that the bird is “Oriental Turtle Dove” . Maybe they are migrating from the northern part of India as winter is closing in there as these birds are known to migrate to South India during winter.


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The migrating butterflies – Crimson rose.

A couple of days I had this red and black butterfly caught on my camera. But now I see hundreds of them everywhere. Today, while it was still raining, I got a number of the same species fluttering around.

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It was raining and it was difficult to catch them on my camera from a distance. But I managed to get a few of them.

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They were everywhere. Fluttering around with their magnificent and bright beautiful wings.

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I got them through the window of my office on the second floor (Sri Aurobindo Society) from a distance of about 30 meters away.

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Some of the shots are off-center due to a high zoom.

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Obviously, due to the huge numbers of them, I presume, they are migrating.

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It is north-east monsoon in Pondicherry. It has been raining from today morning off and on since morning till almost noon. Because of my vantage position, I could get these butterflies about 40 feet above the ground.

Nature is so beautiful, green and soothing, especially when it rains! It is kind of regenerative even within minutes of its impact. The whole atmosphere changes and transforms!.


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The fluttering beauty of red, black and white… Crimson rose.

Recently when I was in Bahour which is about 20 km south of Pondicherry (India), I came across this beautiful butterfly which was fluttering around… It was late evening around 6pm so there was not much light for a better image. Still, its red, black and white pattern was beautiful, against the green background!!.  This is the crimson rose butterfly.IMG_2174 Nature is so bountiful and we often forget to realize it!!

I have seen similar butterflies before which used to be more bright. This fellow looked a bit of shabby, dusty one.

Maybe it had a hard day wandering in the dusty routes!!!


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The shrinking green spaces and birds…

I live in Puducherry, or Pondicherry or even shortly as Pondy as it used to be known – and still of course- a small or rather tiny Union Territory in the southern part of India. Having a series of colonial successions like the Dutch, the French and the British in between, Pondicherry still has a metropolitan culture having a true mix of people from all parts of India and abroad. It is also the place of Sri Aurobindo, The Mother, the Aurobindo Ashram and of course, the Auroville, the international city of peace where people of several countries live as communities. Auroville is a beautiful experiment a totally barren stretch of land has been converted into a beautiful green space with several forests, organic farms & gardens, production units, renewable energy options including the solar kitchen, organic outlets, restaurants, model schools and all that is needed to be a self-sustained community

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The beautiful beach of Pondicherry, hardly any trees at all…

Now coming to my topic of the day, Pondy is really graceful and beautiful town that has a true historic past starting from maybe the 2nd century BC where a small town called Arikamedu had excellent maritime trade connections including the Romans. Pondy also has several small towns – for example, Bahour, which was at the peak of its civilization about 1200 years ago.  The first temple constructed by the Paranthaka Chozha is at Bahour and it still stands strong and tall with stone inscriptions telling the excellent governance systems and water management systems of that time.

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The Oussudu Lake –one of  he largest one and a great habitat for migratory birds….

Fortunately, the water system is still intact and I will write about it later.  Unfortunately, due to unplanned, irrational, shortsighted planning, Pondy is losing its shine at a  faster pace. Totally berserk town and country planning processes have fast deteriorated the green spaces of this small territory.

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With no trees to perch…

Houses, houses everywhere and not many trees or shade at all. This is affecting the birds very much and they cuddle to whichever little spaces that is available. One such space is the Botanical Gardens of Pondy where the film “Life of Pi” was shot. With exploding migratory population, the spaces are shrinking very fast and the bird population is the worst affected.

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Green and green …

How can one increase the green spaces? Puducherry had around 1000 water ponds to its credit, but a study done by the government of Puducherry 10 years ago, says that the water ponds have reduced to 600 in number.  But now, we would be lucky if we even have half of it, I suppose. Why is this happening? The negligence of the government coupled with the greed of the politicians to illegally appropriate them and distribute them as free house sites to gain political mileage for vote banks!!.

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Hope is that drives us on and on….

So is there any hope? Yes, there seems to be. Currently, a community initiative under several NGOs and peoples collectives are urging the government to declare the wetlands of Pondicherry and even to try to reclaim the lost water and green spaces. Let us hope it will work !!!. After all, it is hope that keeps us driving… Isn’t it?


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Fasting, Curing and Well being

Have you ever skipped your breakfast? I am sure, all of us do that. I have heard various comments from all quarters who say you should never skip your breakfast. Right ? Eat your breakfast like a king.. Yes. All that !!!

But times have changed. Our lifestyles have changed. Most of the people never get any time to do any physical activity. Modern science tells us it is okay to skip your breakfast sometimes which actually might improve your health. The 2016 Nobel Prize awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi relates to what is known as “autophagy” (meaning “self eating” by which cells use autophagy to eliminate damaged proteins and organelles, a quality control mechanism that is critical for counteracting the negative consequences of aging. So during fasting energy is taken from the stored fat in your body. When you fast (of course with no snacking in between including consumption of sugar/milk or any carbs) for about 17 hours or so – meaning when you skip your breakfast after your previous day’s dinner, and directly have your lunch, it brings about many positive changes to your body. I am not going to go deep into those particulars as you can Google yourselves to find out more, but beware, do not do this if you have any health issues like diabetes.  If you are on any drugs, you should get some expert advice before doing it. It is quite safe to skip your breakfast and have some unsweetened green tea or black coffee (of course without sugar) to kill your hunger pangs!!

There are even more interesting research going on in modern medicine which urges)you to avoid certain foods that could result in what is called “leaky guts”(bacteria or toxins leak through the intestinal wall), which postulates that all our diseases (mostly lifestyle related) start due to destruction of our gut microbiome. The foods to be avoided are those containing “lectins” – those poisons that plants generate to protect their seeds from being destroyed.  When we stop consuming foods that can create holes in the guts, it means we are allowing our bodies to rebuild our immunity

Another branch of research in modern genetics related to the process of aging with something known as “telomeres” related to aging. The interesting fact is that when we fast long enough, the body can start its internal process of repairing itself by production of stem cells.

The latest Nobel prize in medicine for this year (2019) is related to the response of cells when the oxygen levels go down.  At this time, more Red Blood corpuscles (or RBC) are produced, which in a way may boost our immunity. Does it ring any bell? Look at people living in high altitudes who live constantly in low oxygen levels who are fond to live longer!!.

So maybe there is some benefit in fasting. Or not may be, but definitely yes. All religions and cultures had fasting as a process to reboot the human body system!. You can also read up on works on anti-aging by David A Sinclair or schemes like One Mean A Day (OMAD) etc. It is interesting to note that starvation leads to increased lifespans!!!

So next time when you miss your breakfast, don’t feel bad about it. Enjoy fasting. May be modern humans need to eat only twice or maybe even once. Should we live to eat or drink or eat to live better? Or rather eat less, but quality food. Leave out those refined carbs and sugar or even milk? (if possible switch to country breed , grass-fed cow’s milk, called as A2 Milk (though it is extremely difficult to get it).


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A date with Nature..

After many weeks of spending in the office, sitting on a chair and attending meetings, writing proposals and strategizing plans for various projects, etc., I got a chance to go out and have a date with nature. This was my trip to Matru Udyan, a picturesque, piece of land near the Oussudu Lake, where the various birds, trees, shrubs, climbers,  flowering plants make you so fresh, energetic and think differently and also reminding you, what all you have been missing all these days.

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This land belongs to Sri Aurobindo Ashram and is a wonderful place for people of all ages to study, understand and internalize the role of the various components of nature and its services to not only human beings but all life-forms as well as to land, water, air also.

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Just a few images from my short visit from there, as no words can express what I experienced there better.

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From the flowers to the birds, pond, and lotus, the little creepers and shrubs, everything had a meaning and role to its surroundings. Sometimes, I get a strong feeling, the only species which does not gell with nature are us, the human beings, may we are the “weeds” that nature might not want at all- if it had a choice!!!