Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Birdsong for Tunnel-rats

"Letting a canary go free in a tunnel is an automatic court-martial"

This is perhaps the only reference to a bird in the much acclaimed book, Birdsong by Sabastien Faulks.

The book is a love story woven into the horrors of tunnel and trench warfare in central France during World War-I. It takes you to places that sound distant and vaguely familiar - Amiens, Vimy, Messines and Ypres. Distant frontlines in a distant war which claimed more than 62,000 Indian lives. There is, of course, no reference to Indian fighting units in this book, or of Expeditionary Force A on the Ypres salient. It is mostly about British miners who had been brought in to support the infantry units by building trenches and tunnels, and to set off explosions which aimed to push back the Germans.

Along the way you learn about the Camouflet - "an artificial tavern created underground by an explosion...it was originally used by a fort's defenders to prevent undermining of a fortress wall during a siege". In a cat-and-mouse game taking place some thirty feet underground, defenders would dig a tunnel under the attackers' tunnel. An explosive charge would be detonated to create a camouflet that would collapse the attackers' tunnel. The fate of those unlucky enough to survive such explosions in narrow tunnels, can only be imagined.

With so many human lives at stake you are left wondering why on earth were soldiers getting court-martialled for losing canaries in such tunnels?

References & Links
* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birdsong_(novel)
* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_La_Bass%C3%A9e

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Hava Hava, Sucu Sucu

Catchy tunes have a way of traveling around the world.

Recently I was quite amazed to know that the famous Hindi song, "Hava Hava" was actually a copy of a copy! The original was a 1970s song from Iran which was copied by a Pakistani Singer, and then by Bollywood.

Havar Havar (Persian original) - Kouroush Yaghmei, 1978

Hava Hava (Pakistani copy) - Hassan Jehangir - https://youtu.be/lrusoeIvetQ
Hava Hava (Coke Studio Pakistan re-make) - 2018 - https://youtu.be/w3s8cjG2WYY

Hava Hava (Hindi copy) - Movie "Mubarakan" (2017)

Then there is a Spanish song "Suku Suku" by the Bolivian singer, Tarateño Rojas in the 1960s. This particular tune went on to be adapted or copied into no less than 19 languages, including a Japanese version, Furimukanaide - Sucu Sucu (The Peanuts, 1960s) 

Suku Suku (Spanish) - Original by Tarateño Rojas

Bollywood was quick to copy this number and make it part of the Hindi movie "Junglee" in 1961. The film went on to be a big hit.

Suku Suku (Hindi) - Movie "Junglee" (1961)

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Watching Trees Grow

The world may have come to a standstill because of the Covid-19 virus but life goes on.

On 23 March 2020, a day after the "Janata Curfew" and a day before the nationwide "Total Lockdown" enforced by the government, I had gone to buy vegetables from the local Mother Dairy F&V Outlet. It was a bright beautiful day but the parks we already beginning to look eerily empty - there were no children playing on the swings, the usually raucous volleyball court was empty and so was the open-air gym.

Yet there was something beautiful about the silence, the rustle of fallen leaves underfoot, and the sharp calls of the ashy prinia's hiding in the bushes. As I cut across the park and walked towards the booth, I noticed something unusual.

An elderly couple stood under a pilkhan tree (Ficus virens)giving directions to a little boy perched in the barren branches. He was plucking and tossing down the bright pink shoots which were being diligently piled under the tree.

What was this for? 

The old man, a villager from Bihar, was not very forthcoming but his wife cheerily said that you could sauté these shoots turn them into a delicious dish.  Cooking shoots of the pilkan tree just like the bamboo shoots? I had never heard of such a thing before! 

Ten days later, when I went to replenish our stock of veggies the street looks so different. The pilkhan trees that had been bright green on one side of the road had all turned pink from the thousands of new shoots, while the one that one tree which had been the early bird in once sense had now turned completely green with a fresh set of leaves.

Clearly the little boy has plenty of new trees to climb and at least one family needs to buy fewer vegetables from the vendors during this lockdown.


* It seem pilkhan leaves have long been a popular ingredient for the Thai curry phak lueat - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_curry