Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hunting and wilderness writings

Punch lampooning sport-hunters
A query from a friend led me to look for old hunting literature from India and the list (excluding the better known Corbett / Anderson works) of materials available on the Internet Archive turned out to be quite long. It is interesting how perceptions of hunting differed even in the pre-conservation era. As early as 1910 Punch magazine had lampooned hunting literature.

Here is an index (will be updated now and then) of material from the Internet Archive related to hunting, natural history and wilderness from India.  This skips material that lacks a personal narrative such as the numerous other works focusing on fauna or flora. It would seem that India was far wilder and exciting when travel was tougher.

The following are not primarily on aspects of Indian wilderness but are included here (mainly for personal research).
PS: Apparently there was a journal called "The Indian Field" whose editor for a while was a W. Burke. This unfortunately is not readily found in Indian libraries and hopefully someone will find it and digitize it for the Internet Archive. Another serial was the "Indian Sporting Review".
23-Jan-2014 - subsequent to the comment by Milan Mandal - I have added some Kenneth Anderson, Jim Corbett and R.G. Burton books, the archive links are however a little problematic as some could represent material still in copyright. The Internet Archive claims that they can hold it as they are registered as a library in the United States of America, however this might not stand in the courts of some other countries.
12-Dec-2014 - Ameen Ahmed mailed me a list of online sources that he had found which led to some additions.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Outdated pleasures

While some are after the latest, others enjoy the outdated. There are some archaic sources for India that will always be fascinating for the insights that they offer. Today I look at The Cyclopaedia of India - this amazing work was produced in several editions, the first in 1858 followed by 1873 and the third in 1885, with  35,000 entries.  The author of this work, Surgeon General Edward Green Balfour, is himself of some interest. He is hardly remembered today but was one of the founders of the Government museums in Madras and Bangalore apart from the zoological garden in Madras. Working as a military doctor, he noted that women doctors might be more acceptable within Indian society and this led to the first woman doctor Mary Scharlieb joining the Madras Medical College.  Skeptical of Indian traditional medicine, he also worked on translating European texts on midwifery into Indian languages. He was a cousin of Allan Octavian Hume and would sometimes get his works read out in the House of Commons through his uncle Joseph Hume (a topic of an earlier post). His medical work included surveys of health and disease in association with climate - Statistical data for forming troops and maintaining them in health in different climates and localities (Quarterly Journal of the Statistical Society of London, 8, 1845:192-209) and his Remarks on the abstract tables of the men discharged from the military (Quarterly J. of the Statistical Society of London 1851, 14:348-356)- from which he determined that places in the hills were better suited for maintaining Military stations.  He was among the first to link deforestation and famine, suggesting the link between forests and water in Notes on the influence exercised by trees in inducing rain and preserving moisture (in the Madras Journal of Literature and Science 25(1849):402-448). As the first superintendent of the Madras Museum, he maintained careful statistics of the collections, the number of visitors and made special attempts to ensure that more women visited it.  Heber Drury (of the orchid fame) acknowledges him in his "The Useful Plants of India."  Environmental historian Richard Grove noted that "Balfour stands as the clearest example of an apparent duality of humanist reform and conservation concerns." A painting of Edward Balfour is said to languish in the halls of the Chennai Museum.
The three volume Cyclopaedia (3rd edition)

His cyclopaedia is however an especially major work. Scanned versions of the third edition are available online. Later editions expanded from three to five volumes. (Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3)

A few random pickings (including some rather fantastic hail stones !)

Mooragana butter, or solid oil of Canara, is used medicinally as an ointment for the wounds of cattle injured by tigers. It is said to be produed from a forest tree growing in the Canara jungles. It is dark brown, and is the most solid of the solid oils. (v3:12)

Hail. ...At the end of the 18th century, a mass fell at Seringapatam the size of an elephant, which took three days to melt. On the 10th April 1822, at Bangalore, 27 bullocks were killed. (v2:3)

Todiramphus collaris, Scopoli. The white-collard kingfisher of the Sunderbuns, Arakann, Tenasserim, Malayana, and Archipelago. Its feathers are largely prized by the Chinese, who buy the skins at 24 for a dollar.

Bangalore. ...Bangalore city in 1871 had 142,512 inhabitants, of whom 105,632 were Hindus, 21,587 Mahomedans and 15,294 Christians. Public buildings for the administration of Mysore were erected during the minority of the present ruler. There are many Christian churches; and the French Catholics and several Protestant sects are spread over Mysore district. There is a college, and the Mysore Museum, which the editor founded in 1865. (Note: Italics added)

Hand. The figure of the hand, amongst all nations, is utilized as an emblem. ... In India, amonst Mahomedans and Hindus, the right hand is more honoured than the left; in China the left hand is more honourable the the right; in Siam the right more than the left. In British India, a person to whom you make a present, a servant to whom you do a kindness, will rush to your hand and press it to his lips. To seize a man's hand is to crave his protection, to profess yourself his servent.
Handkerchief. Handkerchief pieces form a considerable article of manufacture and traffic in Southern India. Handkerchiefs, coloured, from Madras, red from Sydapet and Ventapollem, are much admired for the harmony and richness of the colours, and the superiority of texture. Nellore pocked-handkerchiefs of jean deserve unqualified approbation. The silk handkerchiefs manufactures in Bengal are known in the market as Bandana, Kora and Chapa. They are generally figured, and of different colours. They are exported chiefly to the Burmese territories, and sold at from 1.5 to 5 rupees each. The coloured cotton handkerchiefs manufactured at Ventapollem, on the east coast, are well known in foreign markets, were formerly highly prized for their superior qualities and colours, but they have been driven from the markets by the Madras and Pulicat manufactures, which the community prefer for their superior qualities and colours. Madras handkerchiefs of the superior kinds are sold at 1.75 rupee each, and inferior sorts at 4 annas to 12 annas; the colour of the last description is very perishable. ...

One finds similar entries in the Hobson-Jobson, but that is often terse given that it aims mainly to be a dictionary or glossary. (scanned version) Some topics are handled by rather expansive treatments - an example is "opium".

Other links to see

A trip to Chennai last week (7-8 March 2012) allowed me to make a trip to the Government Museum. At the entrance of one of the galleries is a large oil painting of Edward Balfour. Unfortunately the lighting was awful with ugly lights reflecting off it. The painting is covered by a glass front, but it is sad that a good digital reproduction has not been made available online. After taking photographs at oblique angles and digitally skewing them on GIMP and patching together some pieces, I (or rather Wikimedia Commons / all mankind) now have a reasonably good image of this 1880 painting by Walter Saunders Barnard (1851–1930). It happened to be Womens Day and they apparently had something special. One hopes they did highlight his role in bringing ideas of public health, women's education, museums and zoos.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ferns for thought

There is a widespread idea that things herbal are automatically safe. This, unfortunately, is not quite true as plants have, in their long drawn war with their enemies evolved some deadly defences. Ferns are some of the older plant groups that are found on land today. On a trip to the Talakaveri area in Coorg, I noticed this butterfly-like moth sitting on a fern.

Tetragonus catamitus
Although it holds its wings like a butterfly and is about the size of a typical Lycaenid, the antennae, the spines on the legs and the stout body give away its identity and it turned out to be Tetragonus catamitus, a moth in the family Callidulidae. Almost all the moths in this family have their caterpillars feeding on ferns. The entire family has a rather restricted distribution in South Asia and Southeast Asia but extending somewhat oddly  into Madagascar.

Callidulidae distribution from Grehan (1991)

On the same trip, we went down to Bhagamandala to collect Diplazium esculentum to cook a dish. This fern is widespread in Asia and young curly fronds are eaten across its range. In northern India it is called linguda. The picked fronds are typically sauteed with some spices to make up the rather tasy dish.

Edible ferns are not as common as the bracken ferns of the genus Pteridium, some of which are weeds. Their leaves have a protein called Ptaquiloside (PTA) that is carcinogenic and yet young fronds of this species are  cooked and eaten in Japan where it may be contributing to a high incidence of gastic cancer. Heat causes ptaquiloside to lose its function as a toxin or anti-feedant. PTA has even been considered an environmental contaminant as it may leach from the fronds and enter water and soil and traces have even been found in milk from cattle fed on bracken infested pastures. The more edible ferns like Diplazium have lower levels of PTA. Some ferns show a peculiar preference for arsenic, extracting it from soil and accumulating it in their leaves. Arsenic at high concentrations is toxic to most animals. Perhaps the younger fronds that are traditionally picked have a lower level of the toxin? Given the primitive vascular system, one might think that PTA is synthesized in the older leaves and retained there without being translocated into the young fronds. However this does not hold water as several studies have specifically looked at whether and how ferns translocate nutrients. The weedy Pteridium is very tolerant to  herbicides and studies have attempted to find the source of their resistance. It appears that they do not move the herbicide from the sprayed leaves to their rhizomes. So while herbicides cause leaf death, the rhizomes come back to life in the next rain. However other studies using radio-isotopes have found that sugars are translocated as in angiosperms and PTA concentrations actually tend to be higher in young fronds - where the need for protection from herbivores is greater.

Diplazium growing along a stream
Now the number of insects that feed on ferns is something to think about. One estimate (Hendrix, 1980) put it at a mere 465 species (Hendrix however missed the Callidulidae in his list) ! The number of vertebrates feeding on fern spores is 3 [a mouse, the bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina) and short-tailed bat (Mystacina tuberculata)] Ferns are the oldest vascular land plants and given that very few of the extant herbivores feed on them, some authors have suggested that their defenses may have been overcome by herbivores of the past, especially the larger dinosaurs of the Carboniferous Period. Taggart and Cross (1997) note that herbivory  is rather uncommon among extant reptiles. The mildest PTA symptoms include Thiamine deficiency and so a little searching for Thiamine deficiency in the nearest relatives of the dinosaurs, the birds, throws up the possibility that PTA was evolved as a defense against herbivorous dinosaurs. Thiamine deficiency in birds was something new to me and a paper on large scale declines in European birds due to it came as a bit of a surprise. I have heard of people getting sick from eating Diplazium and it seems like one should be careful when it comes to eating ferns.
A fern leafminer

Further reading

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Missing beans

I recently heard of a dealer of antique maps - Geographicus - there was no way I would have heard of them but for something remarkable that they did. They scanned up their treasures and since these ancient maps were in public domain, released them for use on Wikimedia Commons. These maps are amazing sources of history ! Unlike modern history textbooks which have their own slants, these are original works with their original biases - probably to guide early traders find stuff to ship back to their homes. One of the maps I have been marvelling is this one from 1733. The full map by Homann's heirs can be found here but here is a crop of a region of interest. It includes places like Dharmapuri and the entire region holding 95 million people today is yet to be discovered.
Homann heirs 1733 map (no roads)

Come 1748 and the town of boiled beans is still not on their map! 1794 and Bengaluru (correct spelling!) appears in Jefferys map. Note that there are no major roads leading to it but then it seems like the Germans were not very interested in actual business. This was around the same time that the English were mapping the region so as not to get beaten again by Tipu.
Portion of 1794 Jeffreys map

The 1800 map by Faden Rennell shows road networks and it is clear that they are well established - note the neighbouring town of Pedda Ballapuram. In 1808 we see Chinna Ballapuram nearby.
1808 map
There must be many interesting things to study in these maps, rivers gone dry, towns coalescing, names  and boundaries changing and so on. Perhaps we can have more original geography classes (looking back, I cannot even figure out if there was a guiding philosophy in the teaching of geography) now that the compilation of geographical knowledge itself becomes more visible. 

Credits: courtesy of Geographicus, via Wikimedia Commons

Index to the maps 
(Make sure you click on the "full resolution" link below the images on these pages)

1652 - Nicholas Sanson
1733 - Homann heirs (South India)
1740 - Matthias Seuter (India, German view)
1748 - Homann heirs
1756 - Bellin (Kollam fort) 
1759 - La Rouge (French Coromandel - include Kallamedu - Pt. Calimere)
1764 - Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (French map of Bombay)
1768 - Jeffreys
1770 - Rigobert Bonne (northern India)
1775 - Jean-Baptiste d'Après de Mannevillette (maritime map, south India, Sri Lanka)
1776 - Rennell (Bihar, Bengal)
1777 - Rennell (Delhi)
1780 - Bonne-Raynal (northern India)
1780 - Bonne-Raynal (southern India)
1780 - Bonne (Maldives)
1780 - Rigobert Bonne (French map, northern India)
1784 - Tiefenthaler (Ganges)
1793 - William Faden
1799 - Clement Cruttwell
1800 - James Rennell
1804 - German version of Rennell's southern India map with notes on Tippu Saheb
1806 - John Cary (used by Bishop Reginald Heber)
1808 - Charles Smith
1814 - John Thomson (southern India)
1814 - Thomson (with details of Ganga)
1814 - Thomson (northern India, Nepal)
1818 - John Pinkerton
1821 - Matthew Carey (with English take-over dates)
1827 - Anthony Finley
1834 - Penny Cyclopaedia (Society for diffusion of useful knowledge)
1834 - Bombay Goa
1837 - Malte-Brun (French map with low resolution of detail)
1838 - James Wyld (S. India with rivers, roads)
1842 - Calcutta
1852 - Levasseur (S Asia)
1853 - S A Mitchell (princely state boundaries) 
1855 - Justus Perthes (includes India of Ptolemy and Eratosthenes)
1855 - Colton
1862 - A J Johnson
1863 - Edward Weller (map of Delhi - useful for readers of The Last Mughal)
1864 - S A Mitchell (Asia including Tibet)
1864 - A J Johnson (Hindostan)
1865 - A J Johnson
1865 - Karl Spruner von Merz
1879 - Bombay Harbour
1895 - Times of India (Bombay)

Further reading

Monday, April 4, 2011

Accidental conservation

Some recent reading got me to consider how a lot of habitat conservation in India has been guided by accident rather than policy. This brought memories of a site close to Bangalore which was perhaps among the many monuments that were saved by accidental, unilateral and undemocratic actions (more on this by Michael Lewis in his article on the conflicts at the Bharatpur national park). 

The rocky hills known in geology as the Closepet series (Closepet after Barry Close was the old name for what is now Ramanagara(m) ) was the backdrop for the Hindi film "Sholay"  and David Lean's "Passage to India". Savandurga is one of the largest monolithic outcrops in this region and is quite a spectacle and experience, perhaps more enjoyable due to its being largely off the tourist beat.

Passage to India, Savandurga scene
There is an amazing website on the making of "Passage to India", the locations and stories behind the making including the controversial creation of a "cave entrance".  The entrance hole was carved out for the movie but this was to become dynamite. A European journalist who had travelled all the way to see the shooting was denied access to the site by David Lean. Irritated, the journalists wrote about how Lean was blasting the rocks in India to make  his movie, tauntingly asking if they (the western audience) would allow Indian directors to rearrange the stones at Stonehenge. This newspaper article published in Europe apparently had a magical effect, moving the high offices in Delhi and ultimately Bangalore and getting regulation in place. Like most Indian regulations and reactions the protection quickly withered away. Only recently there were plans to carve one of the large rocks in this reion into a  Buddha so as to rival  Mount Rushmore. Defacement by painting, quarrying, building of illegal resorts are just among some of the activities that continue in this area and the periodic efforts of the few enlightened individuals to protect the region do not seem to depend on policy nor does it produce a binding policy that will continue to be followed but actions work only through the temporary usage of political rivalries that pit one force against another.

Now endangered - Indian Vulture
On one trip to Savandurga, we met a forest guard who remembers the time when the shooting was on. He remembered that carcasses were thrown near a cliff to attract vultures for one of the scenes. On finding snippets it seems clear that these are Indian Vultures Gyps indicus - notice that the underwing coverts are quite dark. A few birds continue to survive at Ramdevarabetta in Ramanagara but their continued survival seems to be dependent on safe nesting. They are now threatened by a new resort in the vicinity, whose legality seems to be highly questionable and the authorities do not seem to be interested in acting in long term interest.

The situation was similar in the case of the conservation of the unique Gulf of Mannar which was planned to be dredged to shorten a shipping route. The entire exercise apparently the solution to problems arising from low efficiency at the Mangalore port  and poor rail connectivity. What finally gave a reprieve to the dugongs and all the other sea life was Adam's Bridge and the tenuous link between geology and mythology.  Mythology clearly won this case for conservation.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Show thy affection or else

April 1.  This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.  - Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894
Punch 1904 admiring the Hindi version
I recently came to learn of the Hindi Punch  and spent some time browsing the 1904 issue. This Indian version of Punch magazine was produced in Bombay and was even acknowledged by the venerable original.

"...and what useful service, wherever reform is needed, our Indian cousin is always ready and willing to render. In some instances he appears to be a very hot Punch, steaming in fact, but that is a matter of climate. The Baron tenders congratulations on the present volume, and, on behalf of Mr .Punch himself, wishes Hindi Punch continued success in the future."
Punch magazine gave birth to the word "cartoon" in June 1843 when they announced plans to publish a collection of their designs " be called Punch's Cartoons!" - derived from the French cartone which referred to strong heavy paper on which artists made sketches.

A little research showed that Punch had considerable influence  in British India. Apparently there was also "The Oudh Punch", "The Delhi Punch", "The Punjab Punch", two versions of "The Indian Punch", "Urdu Punch", "Gujarati Punch", "Parsi Punch", "The Indian Charivari" and a "Hindu Punch". The last apparently got in the way of the law of the land and was declared seditious in 1909. Sure enough, researchers with access to such material have produced erudite books on the subjects of satire and sedition. 
Hindi Punch on war expenditure

Much of the Hindi Punch of 1904 concentrates on social problems, war, taxes and the sops given to Indians. A recurring theme is the expenditure incurred in the Tibetan expedition of Younghusband. Satire was obviously an excellent way of reaching out to people in the face of anti-dissent/sedition laws.  Sedition was broadly defined as "dissaffection" for the government, or in other words the lack of "affection"! There are a number of interesting historical documents on the Internet Archive and these include "A treatise on the law of sedition ... in British India" (1911), "Law relating to press and sedition" (1915), "Indian States (Protection Against Disaffection)  Act (1922)" and "Sedition Committee Report 1918".
A. O. Hume

Looking at the text of  some of these pieces, it seemed like my favourite British Indian ornithologist, A. O. Hume must have been a "seditionist" and sure enough I found evidence of such allegations. Hume's considered Government as a means for ensuring public welfare and this brought him into serious conflict with his employers and their elite Indian Rajah friends. A pamphlet produced by an organization of "Indian Patriots" aimed to show that Hume and his Indian National Congress were seditious. It includes a section by a local chieftain about democracy being inappropriate for India. It is interesting to note that only one Indian under Hume's command  deserted him  during 1857 and after the rebellion, he never punished anyone for it and followed a philosophy of forgiveness. Hume  subsequently wrote that force would never help any government:
... assert its supremacy as it may at the bayonet's point, a free and civilized government must look for its stability and permanence to the enlightenment of the people and their moral and intellectual capacity to appreciate its blessings
Hume senior, a Punch favourite
Towards the end of his service in India, Hume made a rather remarkable statement in an 1887 letter to the Public Commission of India  — "I look upon myself as a Native of India."  I think about that quote whenever a government car tries to get ahead of the traffic with flashing lights with some government official lurking inside the dark tinted windows. Unlike public servants in most countries, Indian government officials continue the British practice of looking down upon the citizens and trying to distance themselves from the general public. Had the spirit of public service been inculcated after Independence, our governance (at the very least, public transport and healthcare systems) could have been greatly improved, apart from saving a great deal of government expenditure and reducing the carbon footprint. And government expenditure brings us to the topic of A.O. Hume's father, Joseph Hume. After making a fortune in India, (in part contributed by remembering his chemistry, and figuring out how to dry  gunpowder that had gotten soggy) Joseph Hume purchased a seat for himself in the House of Commons and became a self-appointed guardian of tax-payer money - he constantly made calculations on how much money was lost in various transactions of the government and how it could be saved by cutting various costs. He was extremely vociferous in parliament - making him a favourite of Punch magazine. Around 1836 the sixpenny "groat" was replaced by a "fourpenny" coin - this was at the insistence of Joseph Hume who argued that the usual rate of a cab was fourpenny and that a six-penny would require a change of two which could not usually be returned. It was nicknamed after him as a "joey", and the horse-cab drivers were not happy about the loss of their two-penny tips. Punch magazine includes a homage to "Joe". Suggesting that a monument be built using the pennies that were saved they note "In those days, such attempts of Joseph Hume were considered nothing less than penny-wise disaffection and pound-foolish treason."
B H Hodgson
The intellectual element in British India seems to have always harboured ideas that stood independently of their employers, naturally easily meeting the commoners definitions of "sedition" and "contempt".  And it is not surprising that many of these were into natural history. Brian Hodgson went far beyond this, he was into serious Indological and Buddhist studies apart from nearly having "gone native". Living for a while with a Kashmiri woman in Nepal, he had two children by her who were sent to the Netherlands to avoid being stigmatized, however they did not live long. Hodgson described many of the birds and animals and when they had a local name, he often made use of it in their Latin names. Thus the Snow Partridge Lerwa lerwa got the name from the Tibetan name. He called the Pygmy Hog as Porcula salvania,  "little pig of the Sal forests". Hodgson spent a good deal of effort fighting Macaulay's idea of introducing English education in India. He wrote a series of essays and letters to the local press apart from distributing copies on his own. Titled the "Preeminence of the Vernaculars" he uses historic, philosophical and practical arguments suggesting that Macaulay's idea was ethically flawed. His arguments like those of Hume could easily have been dismissed as seditious, however it appears that these colonial laws applied only to Indian subjects.
Borders? I have never seen one.
But I have heard they exist
in the minds of some people
Board outside the Kon-Tiki museum, Oslo

Being students of nature, naturalists clearly saw that the rules made by humans were for convenience and any delineations  based on religious, economic, social, national and other boundaries were questionable - it is not surprising that they questioned so-called virtues such as "nationalism" or "patriotism". "Tell people that patriotism is bad and most of them will laugh and say: ‘Yes, bad patriotism is bad, but my patriotism is good!’" -Leo Tolstoy

It is interesting that sedition laws essentially aim to block criticism and dissent which are an essential part of large-scale rational democratic debate that would almost certainly result in conclusions that can be unfavourable to minorities, especially those in power. It has a cousin in religion called apostasy and in justice - contempt of court - another rather archaic idea that flies in the face of modern egalitarian ideals and rational thought. When rational channels are blocked - taking the irrational to an extreme - satire - reigns supreme.

Image credits: Punch and Hindi Punch - public domain courtesy of the Internet Archive. Hume, public domain, Hodgson, National Gallery - public domain image from Wikimedia Commons, Kon-Tiki board - taken by self.

Further reading

Monty Python's affectionate satire