Astrology of the Apple Watch

The astrology of the Apple Watch

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The problem with the Apple Watch is that it aspires to be a timekeeper; a gadget amd a fashion accessory. Admittedly, Apple’s genius is creating products that people didn’t know they wanted; leaving slack-jawed competitors in its wake.

But do you really need yet another smart device when you are already checking your phone some 154 times a day? I decided to test this premise on an early-adapter relative of mine—called Seenu mama by one and all, including his wife.

Seenu mama, 78, lives in T Nagar, Chennai, and frequently goes to the Bay Area in the US where his three children live. In his Godrej almirah, amid the odd dead cockroach with transparent wings, are a slew of gadgets given to him by grateful nieces and nephews in exchange for the astrological predictions he dispenses with uncanny precision. He begins his day at 3am, when Chennai is quiet and mellow. After a cup of frothy filter coffee, Seenu mama does his morning prayer and peruses the horoscopes that have been emailed to him from all over the world. While he prefers to make calculations by hand, he also looks to apps and software for corroboration. He skypes with students in Toronto; consults with worried software engineers in the Silicon Valley; and helps real estate magnates in New Delhi decide on a suitable time for breaking ground on a new project. Seenu mama is an avid user of digital devices. Were it not for his age, this septuagenarian would fit the perfect customer profile for the just-out Apple Watch.

Seenu mama’s current gadget of choice is the iPhone 5S, on which he has several apps of choice: Yik Yak, to anonymously complain about his wife to strangers; The Night Sky, to track whether Gemini or Cancer is ascendant; and astrological software that he uses to chart planetary transits on a minute-by-minute basis. But a watch? Would he use the Apple Watch, particularly since he is so devoted to his Titan Edge? I wasn’t sure.

The products that give us pleasure are deeply personal and occasionally contradictory. The corporate executive who wears strait-laced pinstriped suits may reveal and revel in striped orange underwear and pink Paul Smith socks—known only to his lovers and laundress.

Free-spirited hippie types who eschew bathing and cleaning may stock OXO Good Grips soap-dispensing cleaning brushes in every bathroom simply for the pleasure of that satisfying squirt.

We each contain “multitudes”, as poet Walt Whitman said; and unpredictable contradictions, which drives marketers nuts.

The normal non-Apple Watch occupies that nebulous space between relic, heirloom, status symbol and luxury product. Young people generally don’t wear a watch, except when they are going for job interviews. My husband has a Rolex watch, given to him by his father, who himself got it as a wedding gift from his father-in-law. None of these men, as far as I can tell, has worn the watch. Well-heeled friends collect Swiss watches and prattle on about minute repeaters and escapements to a Bitcoin-crazy generation that views currency, forget a watch, as a quaint has-been and writing code on GitHub as an alternative to a university degree.

Can Apple make a watch an edgy must-have accessory? For the first time, I am not sure. The gadget universe is divided into purists and, for lack of a better word, mixologists. Purists like objects that do stated, specific, single things. A watch is for telling time; a fountain pen, for writing; a cocktail shaker, to look cool; and a stiletto, to look sexy. The beauty of these objects lies in their simplicity, and elevating that specific task to perfection. Apple specializes in mixology. Its phone can do things that your mother cannot; and oh, as the late Steve Jobs famously said, it also makes calls. Apple-ifying a watch seems like the logical next step, except that it is wearable. Therein lies its strength and its weakness.

For many, the biggest concern with wearing a device on your wrist is the electromagnetic radiation that will ensue. These are the people who never carry a phone on their person; never stand in front of a microwave; and believe that the radio frequency (RF) radiation that these devices emit will change their blood glucose levels. For these people, wearing an Apple Watch would be akin to curdling the brain.

Apps are Apple’s secret weapon. They are what make the phone addictive. I have about 40 apps on my iPhone 6 Plus. I use Pocket extensively to read offline. I exercise using 7 Minute Workout and walk using Moves. I downloaded Life360 to track my family, but they didn’t register. I can access the app version of Carnaticradio.com, which streams Carnatic music from a station in Singapore, on my phone; as I can Bird Calls, which helps me recognize my avian neighbours. Current research states that we should spend on experiences rather than objects, but I love my iPhone. This particular object gives me so much pleasure. At the same time, I struggle to keep away from it, lest I become more addicted to it than I already am. I periodically put it on silent and ask my children to hide it for a few hours.

Author and historian Yuval Noah Harari brutally likens computer games to a drug-addled brain in a conversation with Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman, titled “Death Is optional”, for Edge.org. As robots and technology make us humans redundant, we will have no meaning in life, he says cheerily. We will solve our inner problems by clicking on digital gadgets. Many of us do that already, witness the slew of passengers who attack their anxiety by babbling into phones the minute the plane lands. What will happen with an always-on watch? I shudder to think.

As an Apple product user, I have doubts about their latest product for these and other reasons. I would hate to wear a device that vibrates or buzzes with every silly Whatsapp, Facebook or Twitter notification. At a time when I am trying to figure out how to detox from digital gadgets, the thought of wearing one is like hugging the enemy. As for Seenu mama, his problem with an Apple Watch is simple: It needs to be charged. “Who wants to carry one more charger while travelling?” he says. “I’d rather carry my Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra (astrology book).”

Shoba Narayan will not be buying an Apple Watch. She will buy a Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard instead. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com.

Hum Raag performs at Bharat Kalachar, Chennai on April 11th at 6:30 pm. Please come.

We are so thrilled to be going to Chennai.  Mrs. YGP is a doyenne in the field of education.  She started Padma Seshadri School.  Her son YG Mahendra is a theatre and film actor.  Now, three generations are running the cultural component of the school– called Bharat Kalachar.  Madhuvanti Arun is YGM’s daughter.  If you happen to be in Chennai on April 11th, please come in the evening to attend our show.

BHARAT KALACHAR

16, Thirumalai Road, T.Nagar, Chennai 17; Phone: 28343045/42024304

Website: www.bharatkalachar.com

Cordially invites you for the programme for APRIL 2015

———————————————————————————————–

11/04/2015TAMIL NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS

6 30 pm – HUM RAAG by

                       Shoba Narayan (narrator) & Chitra Srikrishna (carnatic vocalist)

                       Jayanthi Keshav (violin) & Madurai B. Sundar (mridangam)

 

HumRaag – a show that explores the classical roots of Indian popular music, from Abhangs, Bhajans, Ghazals and Movie music. A multimedia presentation filled with Carnatic and classical music accompanied by poetry, story-telling and video music

 

14/04/2015   – ViSHU CELEBRATIONS

       6 30 pm – “BHARATHA RATHAM” – Malayalam Drama by

                       Kaliyuga Theatres & K.P.Samskarika Vedi, Payyanur

Bharatha Ratham – Through the live visuals of the dynamic characters and main episodes of the great epic Mahabharata, the historic events of India’s Freedom Struggle are symbolically presented in the play ‘Bharata Ratham’. The parallel between the epic and the freedom movement is brought out so convincingly through powerful dialogues and similar events. ‘Bharata Ratham’ was written by the great patriot, orator .and freedom fighter, Sri K.P.Kunhirama Poduval in 1942.

CO Sponsor : MALAYALEE RECREATION CENTRE (MRC) Chennai 76

Venue for the above Programmes: Sri YGP Auditorium

                                               17, Thirumalai Road, T.Nagar, Chennai 17

ALL RASIKAS ARE WELCOME

——————————————————————————————————————————-

Dr.(Mrs) Y.G. Parthasarathy ; Y Gee Mahendra; Smt. Sudha Mahendra;   Smt. Madhuvanthi Arun

             Chairman                         Secretary                   Joint Secretary                 Cultural Consultant                                                                    

Would you wear a garment without a blouse?

This piece was a reaction to seeing a room full of amazing black and white photos by Sunil Janah of women who were topless. Like the below photo of a Hill Maria Woman from Bastar.  Courtesy of the Swaraj Art Archive, as are all the images here.

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The free women in Sunil Janah’s photography

Scurrilous as it sounds, it was the breasts that stupefied me—and I might as well warn you now—this is a word you are going to read a lot in this column—and if it makes you uncomfortable—well, that’s the point. I had entered Tasveer art gallery in Bengaluru to cultivate the sagacity that comes with viewing art—or so we hope. Instead, my thoughts were salacious.

Sunil Janah: Vintage Photographs, 1940-1960, contains a selection of black and white photos of tribal women. Janah’s images are well known and venerated by the cognoscenti. Knowing little about him beforehand except that he was Bengali and that the images in the exhibit were from the Swaraj Art Archive, I entered Tasveer tabula rasa, which arguably is the best state of mind from which to view art.

Janah’s photos are disorientingly intimate—as great photos are. He captured tribal women and courtesans in their natural milieus. The photos look as if these women were going about their daily rituals—pounding rice, picking fruit, dancing, gossiping and laughing. They glance casually at the camera; and boom—Janah just happens to be there to click the picture and capture the moment for posterity. Yet, great art doesn’t happen by happenstance. A casual pause or pose does not a great photo make. Great photographs offer a sense of being a voyeur. They give us the feeling of having been at the scene. So how did he do it?

Many of the tribal women have towels wrapped around their waist. That’s the extent of their clothes. Didn’t these women find Janah and his camera intrusive? Were they self-conscious? How did he get them to agree to pose? How did they allow him to capture them half naked; bare breasted?

Ah yes, those breasts. We live in a time when breasts are over-sexualized. Of all the female organs, they are the ones that arouse—literally and figuratively. They are the stuff of ire and fantasy; fashion lingerie and erotic fiction. Agent Provocateur has built a business around sexy bras that fetishize this body part. Looking at these images showed me that breasts weren’t always viewed this way; at least in India. That gave me hope and hopeless nostalgia.

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One image riveted me. She was a tribal woman from Bihar, staring at the camera, her head cocked to one side, her torso bare and beautifully shaped. She just stood there, staring at the camera. Fearless. Free. With just a towel wrapped around her waist. Stuck in hot Bengaluru, clad in a stifling full-sleeved salwar-kameez, I felt pangs of envy. You know what the weirdest thing was? This woman; this beautiful woman clad in a simple loin cloth was wearing multiple necklaces around her neck. It was as if the breasts that she revealed, the body-part that is the fetish and focus of our time, was just a functional organ to her, no different from a heel or elbow. She needed jewellery beyond that—to decorate and ornament. Her clothes were appropriate for the place and climate. Today, we just ape the West.

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Art inspires. It makes your thoughts fly unbidden to corners of your head and heart, provoking surprising and occasionally shocking thoughts.You know what I thought when I saw Sunil Janah’s photos? I thought of Sundari-paati. She was my neighbour’s grandmother (Dadi). A widow. She went around Madras (now Chennai) in the 1980s—not that long ago—clad in a soft beige nine-yard sari, worn without the constraints of a blouse or the added layer of an underskirt. Her attire made eminent sense in humid Chennai, just as the tribal women’s attire made sense in India. Malayali women used to go topless in scorching Kerala until the 1900s. What happened? When did we become so prudish and don clothes that are inappropriate for our climate? When did a certain female body part go from being a functional organ to an object of prurient fantasy? They wore jewellery, you see; beyond the bare breasts; those tribal women. They didn’t think that going topless was enough to stop traffic. They needed the lipstick in the form of necklaces. And this wasn’t so long ago.

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Two Bengaluru women, Ally Mathan and Anju Maudgal Kadam, have started a Facebook project called the #100sareepact. They plan to wear the saris they own 100 times at least in 2015, and tell stories about it. It is rather wonderful; just as Tasveer’s photo exhibits and lectures are. But the six-yard sari that we wear today is less than 150 years old. Before that women in India wore nine yards of unstitched cloth without the British-imposed petticoat and blouse. It made sense for our weather. We had glorious regional variations. Anyone who loves Indian textiles should look at Janah’s photos. They should listen to literary critic Ganesh Devy’s lectures on the colonial mindset. I love the #100sareepact because it encourage PLUs (People Like Us) to wear saris. I wonder though, will the pendulum swing back far enough for women to give up on blouses entirely, like the women in Janah’s photos, or during my grandmother’s time. It is not logical for us to be wearing thick jeans and tailored layered long-sleeved clothes. The women in his photographs were more scantily clad than Zeenat Aman in Satyam Shivam Sundaram. But they exude authenticity and a spirit of the land. There lies the hope and tragedy.

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Shoba Narayan wears nine-yard saris sans petticoat within her home. Not always but on special occasions. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com

I found some good blogs on this topic on Pinterest here and here

Ally Mathan’s sari project on Facebook here

New book, not by me: The Udipi Kitchen

Geetha Rao is someone I got to know through Stanley Pinto’s The Bangalore Black Tie.  She always wears gorgeous saris and is now President of the Karnataka Crafts Council.  I have written about her sari collection for Mint– search for Kodali Karuppur sari and Geetha Rao.  Now, Geetha has a new book out, co-written with her mother.  She was kind enough to invite me to be part of the launch.  K. Jairaj will release the book.  I am to speak on Food as part of culture.  Priya Bala will converse with the authors as they give a demonstration.

Incidentally, Geetha’s husband Surendra L. Rao is a renowned economist and a mentor for many.  Rama Bijapurkar has praised him in her first book.  Please buy Geetha’s book.

The UDUPI KITCHEN invite

Patrick Pichette is probably a nice guy but…..

Got an email from a reader with some tough questions. I have my answers for them, but plan to write to him separately.

Begin forwarded message:

Date: March 21, 2015 at 1:13:43 AM GMT+5:30
Subject: Regarding – Balance vs Early Retirement
From: Vaibhav Bhosale
To: thegoodlife@livemint.com
Cc: shoba@shobanarayan.com

Dear Shoba,
Read your article in Mint and frankly loved it. It gives a fresh aroma of freedom. Unclogs the mind blockages. Reminds me that I am not a prisoner of my own device, that I have to draw a line of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable to me.
But the real question is – how do you train your mind not to drift itself in whirlpool of life? It is not easy to stop when you want to win and succeed desperately.
How do you achieve a work-life balance on a regular basis? How do you create a belief that the sacrifice you are going to make in favor of life, is not going to cost you a whole lot in the work aspect? It might actually cost you. But then how do you reconcile your mind to not feel like an underachiever or somebody who didn’t actualize his / her talent?
Warm Regards,
Vaibhav Bhosale

Why balance wins over early retirement

patrick-kFpC--621x414@LiveMint

A retirement letter masquerading as a wise sermon should hardly make news, let alone cause effusive gushing. Yet, that is what happened with a letter that Google’s chief financial officer, Patrick Pichette, wrote.​ In it, Pichette announced that he was stepping down from his high-powered job and explained why. In terms of life lessons, there was little that was new, but he put it well.

Pichette opens with him standing atop Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with his wife. After a few minutes spent staring at the Serengeti, his wife comes up with a proposition: Why not keep travelling, she asks—from Africa to India to Bali to Australia to Antarctica? Pichette says they have to go back to their jobs and board positions; at which point his wife asks when it will be their time. “So when is it going to be time? Our time? My time. The questions just hung there in the cold morning African air.”

Pichette comes across as a nice man. He has a lyrical turn of phrase. That, along with the fact that he holds a top job in a revered Silicon Valley company, may be why his resignation letter has the drama it does. Man rockets to the top; then drops off the cliff. That’s the story. The Washington Post praised it as “candid” and “reflective”. The Huffington Post called it “inspiring”. Most people admired his desire to seek balance in his life.

But the point is that Pichette didn’t seek balance. The life he describes is no different from the hard-charging worker bees that he manages: people who work long hours; travel constantly; leave their spouse to do much of the child-rearing; are available on call and email constantly, even when they don’t need to be; and suddenly stand atop an African mountain with a wife who is asking tough questions and discover that the children have flown the coop. To step down at that moment isn’t wisdom or a search for balance. It is exhaustion giving way to spousal priorities. It is a simple resignation letter masquerading as a sermon from the mount.

What should make news are executives who choose balance on every step of the corporate ladder. Leaders who make career compromises for the sake of a gifted or dyslexic child; CFOs who choose to forgo more stock options so that they can be home on weekends; heads of divisions who take annual vacations sans the laptop with their families; law firm partners who forgo an exciting assignment so that their spouse can have a turn at the career wheel; and who don’t need to get on a mountain top to understand work-life balance. Except that those people probably don’t become Google CFOs and get its bully pulpit.

Balance in today’s world is mostly about saying “No”. Pichette stepped off his ostensibly fabulous job when he resigned, which is why he is lauded. For the rest of us, it is a series of small negative shakes of the head. A list of things not to do. Small things, but hard to implement. How addicted are you to your mobile device? How much time do you spend checking your messages and email? I do it constantly. Every study says that this frazzled, constant checking of digital data fries your creativity and drowns your concentration. How do you switch off? Are you doing anything about it? That is balance.

Do you surreptitiously check messages when you are helping your child with homework? Why? How can you stop yourself? Parenting happens during pauses; during boredom. Sometimes it is just being at the right place when your child has a certain question. It is the ability to pick up on cues and know what questions to ask. To do that, you cannot be preoccupied all the time. How are you going to achieve a free, open mind that picks up on cues from people you care about? That is balance.

Pichette says he is dropping out of Google to travel the world with his wife. How about going to the corner store with her? Grand gestures make for good storytelling, but it is the small stuff that makes a marriage. Date night is a Western concept, but the notion of doing something with your spouse is a good idea. People of our parents’ generation didn’t make a conscious effort to do an activity together, but we can.

Balance is about saying no to trips that you don’t really need to take; to come up with alternatives such as teleconferencing. Balance is walking away from an assignment that you really love to help a friend get through his illness. Balance is small, incremental choices in a direction that is fair to all the people you care about; that encompasses the physical, mental and spiritual; that incorporates hobbies, passion and purpose. It is not about standing on a mountain and announcing that you are dropping out. That is drama, not balance.

Balance is to have priorities that go beyond immediate family (spouse and children) and your career. Our Indian system is geared for balance. In order to prioritize away from the suction of a career, you need to have things to prioritize towards: family, friends, duty, obligations, these are the stuff of balance. India is full of that. A family wedding falls on the same day of a product roadshow. Which do you choose? A Silicon Valley CFO probably never used the line: “My second cousin’s wedding is on the day of the launch. We grew up together and I have to attend—for four days.”
India is rigged for a balanced life. We each have elderly relatives that we are sort of responsible for. We don’t necessarily like these aunties and uncles but a cousin calls up from Europe and says that they need to be taken for a blood test. What do you do? Having multiple people and obligations in our lives gives us perspective; prevents us from being consumed by one thing: our career.

If you don’t have college classmates who will nudge you to take a trip every year, how will you know the pleasure of friendship or, for that matter, vacations? If you don’t go to church on a regular basis, or have some sort of spiritual affiliation, how do you pause to think about the big things in life? If you don’t look up from your computer to watch a sunset, how will you get a hobby that will engage you after retirement? If you don’t find pleasure in art, gardening, nature or sport, how will you prepare yourself for the solitude that accompanies old age?
Balancing involves choosing between conflicting priorities. For many, there is no conflict. The priority becomes work. To me, Pichette’s letter isn’t an inspiring take on balance. It is an extended apology for all the small things that he didn’t say “No” to. Because, you see, balance isn’t sequential; it is parallel—and constant.

Shoba Narayan has turned off email on her mobile device and uses Freedom and Self Control to limit time on the Internet. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com

The joy of a migratory bird going back home

Have been working on our upcoming music shows in Chennai all weekend.  We are completely redoing the show, and including more Tamil songs.  The Chennai audience is both discerning and has a specific taste.  Like the fabled Hamsa birds that can separate milk from water and drink only the milk, the Chennai audience has forgotten more about music that I care to remember.

So it is exciting for me.  I feel the joy of a migratory bird that is going back home.  The rosy starlings that are currently thronging Ulsoor Lake will go back to Tajikistan at about the same time I will go to Chennai.  April 11 and 12.

So Chitra and I are talking every day.  Deciding on film songs and classical music composers.  It is fun.  Speaking of birds, there is a lovely passage in this essay on that fine magazine, Muse India.  On birds here

Tiger’s Trail

 So every writer aspires to be a photographer or at least I do.  Here are the photos I took at Kanha and Pench.  You have to be patient and refresh the page many times.

On a tiger trail in India

I’m sitting on the deck outside my tent, which perches high above the Banjaar River in central India. Across the river lies Kanha National Park, which at 1,945 square kilometres is one of India’s largest. White egrets pick their way across the bank searching for fish. A male langur cries from within the jungle to establish territoriality. I smile happily. I have spent countless summers trekking and tenting within national parks in four continents. I love the herbal scents in the air; the swaying rustle of leaves; the gurgle of the river. Most of all, I love the spiffy luxury of my tent, so far removed from digging a hole in the ground and using broad teak leaves as toilet paper.

There are 48 recognised tribes in Madhya Pradesh, including Gonds, Bhils, Bastars, Baigas and Ojhas. They live in pockets all over the state, making beautiful sculptures and foraging for medicinal plants. Banjaar Tola’s spaces are enlivened by whimsical metal sculptures created by the local Bastar tribal people. The brass door handles, hanging hooks and water tumblers have tribal faces etched on them. Bottles containing saffron and turmeric conditioner and body wash have metal cork-like closures ­displaying women with geometric faces and coiled hair. In the middle of my bedroom sits a sculpture of a woman with a telescope turned to the sky. As well she might, because the night sky is glorious, revealing a cross section of the Milky Way and a whole array of constellations. I pick at the lemony salad with home-grown lettuce, bite into ­coriander-and-yogurt infused kebabs and sigh in satisfaction. I haven’t been on my first drive into the jungle. In fact, I’ve barely ­arrived.

The human vision of wildlife is romantic and often forgets how inaccessible wildlife is, and should be. Reaching a national park in any continent requires hours of travel by pretty much every mode of transport. So it is with Kanha National Park in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The word “madhya” literally means centre in Hindi.

Getting to Kanha involves flying to Mumbai; then to Nagpur; and then driving five hours into the jungle (if you have time, Bhopal is a beautiful city to visit on the same trip). This long journey forces Type A travellers such as myself into resigned ­acceptance of a slower rhythm; something of a stupor really. By the time I arrive at Banjaar Tola, I am ready for anything, or rather, nothing.

Wildlife tourism reached a luxury tipping point in India nearly 10 years ago when high-end global players such as the Aman group and Africa’s &Beyond entered the country. In 2006, &Beyond partnered with the Taj group of hotels to establish Taj Safaris, a joint venture with jungle lodges in four national parks in Central India: Pench, Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Panna. The lodges are designed by &Beyond and operated by Taj. The service is warm. The beds are firm. The rangers are superbly trained, the staff attentive but not obsequious. The architecture is rustic and in keeping with the forest – choosing wild flowers rather than manicured lawns. The food is Indian but plated well with grilled meats, dals, birianis and curries, all served with your choice of drinks. Rooms are decorated with local tribal objects but are rustic in sensibility. There is no television, no internet, and barely any phone reception. And really, it’s rather silly to sit in a jungle and poke someone on Facebook. The library has both television and a computer with an internet ­connection.

Of the four, Bandhavgarh National Park is touted to have a high density of tigers, which translates into “guaranteed” ­tiger sightings. I choose Kanha and later, Pench – inspired by a BBC documentary, Spy in the Wild, on the tigers of Pench. Narrated by David Attenborough, the superb film uses hidden cameras shaped like tree trunks, that are carried by elephants and placed right beside the tigers, offering unparalleled access into the daily, mating and maternal life of this magnificent animal: Panthera tigris tigris.

Kanha has about 95 tigers in its whole area, but the 300 square kilometres that are open for tourism house barely 10. The 10 four-wheel drives that enter the forest at dawn are chasing these tigers. Of course, we don’t say that. Tiger sightings are rare and cannot be created or conjured up, even by luxury tour operators. Of India’s 27 tiger preserves, I have visited about 15 over the last dozen years. I have seen the tiger in the wild only once: in Ranthambore. I have been to Kanha before and spent days without a tiger sighting. So I don’t dare hope for ­anything. Still, there is no getting away from the elephant in this particular room: we have all come to Kanha to see the tiger.

The forest in Kanha is dense and moist. Dew drips from the tall sal trees. Sunlight filters through. Mist rises from the grasslands, which are coloured white, pink and purple. Sheet spiders create their webs horizontally like sheets at the bottom of trees, waiting in funnel-like homes to catch the unsuspecting insect that falls down. Brilliant yellow orioles fly across trees, glinting like the sun.

As we drive in, we see Kanha’s biggest success story: the barasingha or swamp deer. In 1970, their count dropped to a precipitous 66 animals because of infection, habitat loss and over-killing by ­tigers. Park officials cordoned off grasslands and researched the population decline. Of the 25 species of grass available at Kanha, the swamp deer picks at only seven types. Thirty years of conservation later, the count stands at a respectable 450. “The swamp deer and not the tiger is the true hero of this park because you can see the barasingha only in Kanha and it came back from near extinction,” says my naturalist, Dipu from Kerala.

We don’t see a tiger during my time in Kanha. We do see jackals, jungle fowl and other animals; and really, they ought to be enough. But I can’t help feeling disappointed as I drive to Pench, three hours away. Baghvan Lodge in Pench has wooden huts that are raised a little off the ground. The indoor and outdoor showers are nice, but I preferred the old-fashioned bathtub with brass fittings at Banjaar Tola. The best part of Baghvan’s rooms is the machan, a tree house that comes with every room. In the afternoon, I take my laptop there and read, type and doze. All around are trees filled with birds whose cries and screams remind me of home.

Tigers have been part of India’s ecosystem and lore for centuries. Tiger images are seen on Bronze Age seals. The pharaohs and Romans are said to have imported Indian tigers for gladiatorial sport. Indian maharajas hunted the tigers nearly to extinction. In 1972, then prime minister Indira Gandhi started Project Tiger to protect and preserve the Bengal tiger. The project is viewed as a success. The latest tiger census shows a count of about 1,500 tigers across 27 tiger preserves in India. Today, tourists come to India’s parks mainly to see this top predator that cannot be seen in any other continent. Three subspecies – Javan, Caspian, and Balinese – are already extinct; and only a few hundred of the Siberian and Sumatran sub-species exist. Hence the pressure on the Bengal tiger – to save it and to sight it.

Planning early is essential ­because getting into the park involves getting permission from the forest department. I take a few days to send in my identification card and as a result, am not able to go into Pench on the first morning’s drive. The bookings are full. That happens to be the day of a glorious tiger ­sighting: a tigress and her three cubs. Wolfgang, a German, regales me with photos of the tigress walking, sitting and even pooping. I show him the photos of birds that I took on a walk. I know that sounds lame but the birds were gorgeous.

I spend two days in Pench, following the typical safari lodge routine: forest drives in the morning and the evening with time in the afternoon to nap, read, swim, or in my case, exercise using the “jungle gym” left in the room: a yoga mat, weights and skipping rope, mostly to prepare for the evening’s labours: dinner. With me at the camp are Belgians, Germans, Americans and British tourists. They compare vegetation across continents: the ­Indian jungle scores in the dense foliage area.

Why does man seek the jungle? Most of us go for a change from city life, to see the tiger if possible and return refreshed. Being amid ancient trees is invigorating. Pench contains sal, teak, banyan, frankincense, Indian gooseberry, wood apple and mahua trees, all of which come together to form sacred groves that rejuvenate passers-by. The sounds of a jungle are distinct in what they do not offer: no wailing ambulances or annoying horns; no shouting and cursing drivers; no shrieking brakes. Instead, it’s the flutter of dragonflies, the chatter of parakeets and the barking call of the deer. You see creatures big and small and each of them links you back to your genetic ancestry in a way that textbooks never can. If you are lucky, as I wasn’t even on Day 3, you will see a tiger.

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