Bob my amazing fish

I have kept fish since i was a kid. Now in retirement i still diligently pursue the hobby. Presently I have Mystery Snails and Goramis including the Blue, Golden and Dwarfs. I just don’t keep fish as a decoration or for good ‘Chi’ as many do but rather to study in minutest detail their behaviour relationships mating habits and to rear their young if they successfully reproduce in my modest tanks.
Recently I added another species of Gorami, the Giant Gorami or common Gorami. A single Albino giant just a 3 inch juvenile. He was beautiful with white body and red eyes and a cute pout. I learnt that eventually in 4 years he would grow about 12 inches or so. However i was surprised to see him double in size within 3 weeks and in another month triple in size!!

He seemed more intelligent than any fish i had kept and had a voracious appetite. He responded to my daily tracing my finger on the tank glass whenever i was about to feed the fish and later when i put my finger in the tank would come up and give it what i felt like a kiss. Later i realised that he mistook the finger for food because on one occasion he tried to bite and i felt an uncomfortable pinch. Then i would drive him off so he realised that i was not food but the provider of food in the shape of a finger. he understood and later would just ‘kiss’ my finger before the food was given. This was wonderful because he had begun to behave like a real pet.

Then i learnt from the internet about varied diet for these Giants. He readily accepted and gulped down shreds of apple banana cauliflower boiled potatoes peas and even tomatoes besides the fish food. Now i daily feed him a varied diet of solid fruit and vegetables only after i receive the sweet soft kiss on my finger!!

The internet says that Giant Goramis can become so tame that they may even allow you to pet and stroke them. That too i am sure will happen. I can see now from his intelligent eyes that he knows when i approach the tank and eagerly waits to be fed. It is becoming a mutual love affair.
I wonder if other fish lovers have had similar experiences with these Giant Goramis and if so id love to hear about it on this board.

Lately he has becom so tame that i do not need to drop the food rather I hold it in the pinch of two fingers and he comes up and takes it from my fingers without hurting me!!

 

 

 

 

 

The Killer Corona Virus

I was fascinated to read in a science journal of the manner of reproduction by the Corona Virus which has caused such havoc around the world bringing it to a virtual standstill. I was rather imaginatively reminded of the manner in which human and animal sex cells help in reproduction. It struck me as a curious but close analogy. The virus does not simply divide as in many pathogens and bacteria. On its own it is incapable of multiplication. It uses our cells to help it reproduce. After it links up with appropriate cells of its liking using its corona spike, by piercing the cell wall, it then merges with the cell and inserts its RNA joining with that of the cell thus commanding it to reproduce more¬† Corona viruses rather than simply reproduce¬† another cell. It kind of possesses the cell and uses the cells capabilities to make more Corona virus ‘babies”. Furthermore it deactivates the proteins in the cell which when invaded usually help in sending alarm signals to our autoimmune system to send antibodies to kill the invader. Soon the ‘mother’ cell produces Corona viruses which then emerge from the invaded cell.

 

 

An undated scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round gold objects), also known as novel coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19, emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab and isolated from a patient in the U.S. NIAID-RML/Handout via REUTERS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT – RC25NF9OOP8F

 

yet another cell with emerging viruses(the pink ones)

In this respect one is reminded of our sperm cells entering the Ova and merging its DNA with that of the Ova to complete the process of creating a new being. The Corona virus thus¬† appears to act as male spermatozoa do¬† and treats the invaded cell as its female Ova to reproduce its kind. The infection is therefore some kind of love affair between the virus and the¬† reluctant cell whose defences have been disabled, which then becomes ‘pregnant’ with the numerous viruses within itself and as their structure gets complete within the cell it gives ‘birth’ to the viruses which then begin to look for likely mates in other cells. More appropriately one should think of rape rather than love affair as the virus forces itself on the cell to reproduce its kind. A tricky romantic lover if ever there was one!! Of course the host body cannot withstand this killer ‘love’ in some cases much like it cannot withstand the rebellion of Cancer cells.

The corona halo round the virus thus Corona virus

His majesty Sultan Qaboos of Oman

On Friday the tenth January my wife and I, now in our late seventies and retired,¬† learnt of the sad demise of Sultan Qaboos of Oman at 79, virtually my age, after a long sickness with cancer, and subsequently of the succession of his cousin Hytham as the new Sultan. The news affected me personally as I had served as India’s Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman for about five years¬† from 1994 to 1998 enabling me to interact and get to know both individuals fairly intimately. That indeed became my¬† ”Close Encounters Of The Diplomatic Kind”. It was a special privilege to serve in Oman where there were many Indian settlers and expatriates some of whom had been there for centuries. There existed numerous cultural links and intimacies even before the establishment of diplomatic relations. The Omanis held India and Indians in high regard. Yet the diplomatic links were limited and no major visit had taken place either way over the decades. I made up my mind to strive in every way to correct this omission.

At my credential ceremony I was ushered into his presence with due pomp and fanfare. I saw a kindly monarch waiting with a serious expression. I stood before him and presented my letters of credence which he graciously accepted with words of welcome.

Presenting Credentials to Sultan Qaboos

There were two gilded chairs in his throne room. I was made to sit on one and presently His Majesty arrived sat on the other with a smile of welcome.

Dialogue after presentation ceremony – Sultan Qaboos and i

He began by underlining the importance he attached to developing relations with India with whom there had been traditional contacts of a special nature. We discussed the present state of relations and I was emboldened by his encouraging demeanour to say that it was my dream that he¬† would make a state visit¬† to india during my tenure as Ambassador. He smiled charmingly and added Inshaallah and that it was his wish as well. In the years that followed not only was that important goal achieved but additionally there were state visits by the Indian President and Prime minister to Sultan Qaboos’ utter satisfaction as in the decades before there had been no such state visits either way. There were therefore many more rare encounters with him on a one to one basis and frank exchange of views on the opportunities that were coming up. Normally most envoys get to meet ruling Heads of state once or twice on arrival and departure. but my frequent interactions gave me a sense of the kind of personality he was.

Sutan Qaboos’ father and uncle were both educated in India at the Mayo College School at Ajmer, my Alma Mater also coincidentally. His father therefore decided to send him to Pune in India for schooling.

Young Qaboos

Later the British decided to send him to England and he completed his education there staying with a British family and  finally joined the prestigious  Sandhurst  Military Academy.

On returning to Oman he was placed under house arrest by his father.  He realised that nothing much was being done to take Oman out of its backward undeveloped state despite the emerging oil wealth and decided with British support to overthrow his father in a bloodless coup. In 1970 he became the Sultan and assumed full powers. He then began the process of modernising the state and development activity moved ahead with full force. Today after fifty years of his reign Oman can proudly claim to be reasonably well developed with the facilities of a modern state, people no longer suffering abject poverty that existed earlier and the state emerging with a neutral non interfering foreign policy with good relations with all and on several occasions as a mediator between gulf states and Iran. His shrewd and astute Foreign Policy earned the Sultan the respect of neighbours and big powers.

Qaboos was universally loved by his people who called him Baba Qaboos. equally the expatriate Indian community held him in high regard for his generosity towards them, love of India and unique tolerance for their spiritual values not only allowing the existence of a 200 year old Shiv temple in the heart of Muscat near the royal palace but overcoming objections to its existence and so called nuisance value by some orthodox elements by finding an amazing solution, allowing the building of a second modern temple with a great audience hall where Hindu Swamis could come and give discourses.All festivities on religious occasions were allowed with police support in the heart of Muscat and sweets on such occasions were gladly accepted at the palace and relished by the Sultan. Even in earlier times the Hindu settlers would send sweets on festivals to the ruler. this was not all. His personal staff had many Indians from butlers to barbers and one Hindu family of settlers became the source of supply of all provisions for the royal household from pins to Boeing aircraft. His Royal yacht was manned almost exclusively by Indians.

Unlike other gulf states many settlers who had been in Oman for centuries were granted Omani citizenship and allowed to wear Omani attire and turbans. All this impressed the Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee after assuming office to choose to visit Oman as the first state on an official visit. Earlier when Vajpayee had come to Oman on a visit as the leader of the opposition during my tenure, he expressed a wish to visit the ancient Shiv temple on a personal basis. I accompanied him and we sat in the sanctum sanctorum pouring holy water on the Shiv Linga in what is called an Abhishek ,with the help of a priest. Thus convinced of the extraordinary tolerance of the Sultan he made his next visit as Prime minister to Oman.

My interactions with Sultan Qaboos left me with the impression of an extraordinary man devoid of arrogance, warm and affectionate, tolerant of all faiths and visionary, an admirer of Omani culture, one who loved his people and wished earnestly to take them out of poverty and backwardness into the modern world. He set up numerous educational institutions and sought hard to introduce technological development and infrastructure. Today Oman has California style highways, the cities and streets are spotless clean and expatriate Indians have at least 20 schools, the one in muscat has 5000 students. There is no interference from the ministry of education and they are free to carry on their academic and cultural programmes. We have already spoken of his wise Foreign Policy. Such a leader, like Sheikh Zaid of the UAE must be reckoned as a gift of god for his people. He tried to inculcate the same values in the leadership and his ministers and the royal family and chose in his letter to be opened only after his death a personality much like him in thought and deed: his cousin Haithum Bin Tariq, a young royal who had been assigned to the foreign office as Secretary general and later as minister of Culture despite the fact that he was not the senior most of the royals. Qaboos’ universal respect and authority even after his death facilitated a peaceful transition given his secret choice of a successor who would ably follow in his footsteps. Being unmarried and issue less he did not make known a choice of heir apparent during his life time to avoid any power struggle when he was ailing.

When President Shanker Dayal Sharma decided to pay a state visit to Oman in October 1996 the Sultan was overjoyed. The connection with India had begun. He left no stone upturned to welcome the Indian leader. from the airport to the palace every pole carried Sharma’s portrait and horses and camels resplendent with decorations followed the state visitor with bands. At the palace he was allowed to greet all eminent members of the Indian community. The talks were most cordial. no wonder. Some Indian reports stated the little known fact that when Qaboos had been sent to Pune in India for education before the British decided to take him to the UK , Qaboos’ tutor was none other than Shanker Dayal Sharma. If true then this was not only a meeting between two Heads of State but between a former tutor and his student!!¬† President Sharma was shown every conceivable courtesy and taken in¬† royal boats on the high seas for entertainment. The visit was a great success with signature of several agreements – India’s relations with Oman had taken a strategic turn finally.

President Sharma and Sultan Qaboos tete a tete on arrival in Muscat

The Presidential visit decided the Sultan in favour of making a state visit to his beloved India which he barely knew despite the proximity of Omanis to the well liked Indian community. I met the Sultan’s uncle Syed Fahd who had been educated at Mayo College in India, formerly the school for Indian princes before independence. He had many Indian friends from the school who had taken excellent care of him during his stay there including an uncle of mine. They would be his guests to Oman every winter. The uncle never forgot that during his stay in India he had been so feted especially as at that time Oman’s resources were meagre. Later he returned to his Alma Mater and generously decided to set up a residential boarding house for students called Oman House much like the erstwhile Indian princes had donated houses for residence of students called Jodhpur House, jaipur House, Bhartpur House, Tonk house etc. He further in genuine gratitude donated a Guest House at that public school in Rajasthan, India¬† for eminent visitors to the school. We from mayo college were ever so grateful for this generosity as it made our visits to our school so convenient.

Meeting with Syed Fahd uncle of the Sultan who studied at Mayo College Ajmer

Oman house for residential student

Oman Guest house for visitors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mentioned this to Syed Haitham the Secretary General of the Foreign Office to underline the warmth in traditional relations that existed. I asked him to one day visit these monuments to our bilateral ties. he graciously agreed, little knowing that one day that opportunity could well arise when he as Sultan, no less, would visit India on a state visit.

Sultan Qaboos’ visit was finally scheduled in April 1997 but alas the jinx came into play. at the last moment because of weather conditions the flight had to be cancelled. There was great disappointment in India. I flew to New Delhi and urged all concerned that this was not some political glitch but a genuine weather concern. Visits that fail cannot be quickly resumed but i fought for it saying that we couldn’t let this opportunity pass heaven knew when it would arise again. Wisdom prevailed and the authorities found a slot from another cancelled visit and gave it to Oman just a week later. The preparations had all been made already and the Sultan finally flew without weather constraints to Delhi in his Boeing and we waited holding our breaths for his arrival.

Sultan Qaboos greeted on arrival in India by P, M, Deve Gouda

The new Indian Prime Minister H. D. Deve Goeda was there to receive him. He stayed with President Sharma at Rashtrapati Bhavan the presidential palace in Delhi and was given a grand welcome such as only Indian courtesies provide. He witnessed a polo match and had dialogues with all concerned and after being banqueted and honoured, returned home a thoroughly satisfied man,  Syed Haitham  the future Sultan also accompanied him on the visit.

Ceremonial welcom at Presidential Palace

pomp and pageantry for the sultan and a polo match in his honour Haithum is sitting with him.

Official State banquet by his former ‘ tutor’ President Sharma at the presidential Palace

 

I bidding farewell to the Sultan – Our dream had come true.

A year later Vajpayee became the Prime Minister with the BJP winning the general elections. He had not forgotten his visit to Oman as leader of the opposition and the unique tolerant ambience of this Islamic state. He decided to make his first bilateral State visit to Oman!!

The Sultan welcomes PM Vajpayee to Muscat

Vajpayee  the great orator at  his best

”Both of us believe in moderate politics and decry all forms of extremism, particularly religious fundamentalism. Our vision is for India and Oman to set up a strong, mutually beneficial partnership in diverse fields. We are united by common perception of bilateral, regional and international issues and indeed, enjoy a strategic partnership.”

The visit was a grand success at the close of my term in Oman as Ambassador. We had succeeded in breaking the jinx of stalemate in relations and elevated relations to a strategic height. Many more agreements were signed. In parting Vajpayee the great orator declared:

”For more than 250 years, businessmen from Kutch ( in Gujerat)¬† have settled in Oman and today enjoy the rights of citizenship and the privileges of your patronage and support. In recent years, over 300,000 Indians have found employment in Oman. We are proud that these Indian have contributed their mite to the development of this great country as skilled workers, doctors, engineers, bankers, businessmen.”

Alas Sulltan Qaboos is no more. But he has ensured that his cousin groomed in his frame will continue to honour his legacy and take Oman forward into the future with or without oil revenues. His chosen successor is yet another close encounter of mine in the diplomatic sphere.

 

New Sultan Hatham Bin Tariq

Sultan Haitham bin Tariq is in the same mould as was Qaboos. Warm, affectionate, caring, compassionate, tolerant, balanced, charismatic, friendly and not the least arrogant. He has the same love for his people and equally welcoming of foreigners who settle in Oman and seek to develop it,  Particularly, ancient Indian settlers and present expatriates. Some of the events that took place during my tenure as Ambassador vouchsafe for that belief. He has also committed himself to neutrality of Oman and to friendship with all neighbours and other countries. Looks like Oman will continue to be the Switzerland of the Gulf. He will also follow the policy of mediation in regional disputes and keep ties with Iran to enable such mediation. His religious toleration will no doubt follow the example of his mentor Qaboos. He happens to be an Oxford graduate speaks English fluently and has good relations with both East and West. He is also a keen sportsman which speaks of his character and orientation.

I was fortunate as Ambassador to have Syed Haitham as the Secretary General of the Foreign Ministry. I therefore had the privilege to call on him often in the context of our bilateral relations. He was kind enough to give me even an hour at times for discussion particularly as apart from routine issues there were important visits taking place bilaterally. But that was not all. We sometimes discussed the Indian community, even philosophy, spirituality, poetry and literature. I was indeed most touched that he should find the time to digress from diplomacy into these realms. Indeed it was a friendly gesture and showed his broad vision and curiosity borne of a deep intellect. I didn’t know then 20 years earlier that one day he would be chosen as the next Sultan!!! In all the time i spent with him there was only consideration, interest and curiosity to know, never any arrogance or impatience¬† on his part. Therefore one day i felt bold enough to ask him a special favour. I had just published a book of poems in English and asked him if he would kindly launch it at a public function. He readily agreed with what appeared to be pleasure as we often also discussed poetry and the arts and music. I couldn’t believe my luck – my book of poems published in Oman being launched by the Secretary General of the Foreign Office and cousin of the Sultan:

My wife Amrita and I receiving Syed Haitham for the launch of my book of poems in Muscat

 

Haitham launches my book

 

Report on launching at Muscat

 

My poem on Oman news report.

The invitation to the launch

My wife facilitates me as Syed Haitham smiles

That episode of interaction with the future Sultan was indeed most gratifying and what I reaffirm ”A Close Encounter Of the Diplomatic Kind!!

There were other occasions when he showed special favour for India and Indians. He came from time to time being a sportsman to join us at Cricket matches organised by the Indian Community.

Syed Haitham at our Cricket match Muscat, welcomed by me

 

At the end of 1998 almost 20 years ago I left wonderful Oman and its loving people and amazing leaders for my next posting as Ambassador to Morocco where i had similar close encounters which probably i will report another day.

When I was being hosted farewell by some expatriate friends I got a summons from the Royal Palace. I hastened to the palace and found the Chief of Protocol ushering me in. When i entered I was amazed to find that Sultan Qaboos was already present. I sat on a sofa next to him and we had a warm conversation in which he thanked me for my efforts to elevate our bilateral relations. After the pleasantries he rose as did I in deference and to my surprise he approached me and handed me an ornate box which later I learned contained the highest civilian award of Oman. I will never forget the gracious smile and handshake of Sultan Qaboos as he bid me farewell and bid me God send as I left the palace with his blessings and good wishes. What an amazing tenure in Oman from start to finish, indeed with ”Close encounters Of The diplomatic Kind”. AMEN.

Farewell from Sultan Qaboos

For all the above reasons Oman retains a special place in our career of 37 years in the Foreign Service and these close encounters with rare souls, Sultan Qaboos and Sultan Haitham have left an indelible mark in our hearts and thoughts which we will never forget. Thus in our retirement and advancing age all these memories rushed back when we heard of this rare monarch passing away and the legacy of the ablest successor being chosen by him as he departed, one with whom we had a close relationship. may he succeed in achieving great heights of development for his people and maintain the same warm ties with India and Indians as his predecessor. i do hope one day on his state visit to india he visits Mayo college our Alma Mater to see the generous gifts his Uncle Syed Fahd had given to the school.

 

Medicine Buddha and Apsaras -Antiques from Bangkok

Pleasures come in strange ways. Some can be arranged others come unexpected. They give meaning to life and doubtless help in lengthening your life span if they happen often enough. They are quite subtle and differ from merely feeling happiness. They are more specific than happiness. More focused. My pleasures come from relating to nature, viewing works of art at a museum, growth, devotional music which elevates you to sublime heights, seeing and loving antiques and owning them, keeping pets and seeing them multiply, learning about mysticism through philosophy, religion, spiritualism, yoga, meditation, discovering spread of Hinduism in alien cultures, New Age views of afterlife, different views of the meaning of soul, secrets of astrology,  scientific riddles, the universe and planetary systems, space and time dimensions. and a lot more that i cannot think about.

That is a lot said about pleasure. but for the immediate context lets narrow it down to recent experiences. I went to a park and a cat came up to me. Normally cats run away when you approach them. but this cat came and caressed my legs as a stood surprised. so i bent and petted her. then i went and sat on a bench. she followed me and jumped up and came into my lap. I fondled her and she remained there while i cuddled her chin. she purred. I fell in love with her and wanted to take her home. Then i saw the collar on her neck and knew she belonged to someone else. sad but true. So much love from nature overwhelmed me. I responded in kind. we remained like this together for half an hour. O what pleasure. why did she come to me. did we have a relationship in the past.

The friendly cat

 

I bought a cactus, the type that is round like a ball. sitting pretty in a small bowl. never wanting too much water or care, only the sunlight and an occasional spraying. i left it alone for a month. It just sat still doing nothing to know that it existed. Then i went on a vacation. when i returned it had grown. more pines coming out of its centre. Greener and more voluptuous. what a pleasure to see it slowly grow larger, if you know what i mean.

Cactus

I acquired four rare snails for my aquarium, called Apple or mystery snails. Very beautiful with golden shells and about two inches in width. They cleaned my tank then started mating. see my post on them. their sexuality was quite unique and very sensuous. the result in a month to my surprise were egg pods planted on the surface of my aquarium. then i went on my vacation. On return i was amazed to see 200 small snails all over the aquarium to my utter pleasure. I cannot explain the extent of my pleasure. They were very small and black not golden but crawling all over. One day They will all turn into giant Mystery snails . that is the wonder that caused my pleasure, though you may think such pleasure as silly.

Mystery snails mating

My Budgies, i have some 30 in a cage of all colours,  which gives me pleasure to see, I have a book which explains the colours, which in nature in Australia are only green, also bred. I saw some eggs in some of the bowls i put in the cage. then they produced little buddies which the mother and father took turns to feed into adulthood. each process gave me pleasure beyond measure. Again you may say that this is a stupid source of pleasure but for me it is not.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

I have a post on the pleasure of loving an object. One in the museum or one acquired by you to keep. On a visit to Bangkok I acquired some more. and they too give me no end of pleasure.

Emerald buddha, bejewelled

On my recent visit to Bangkok i was amazed by the influence of Hinduism and India on this alien land. whenever i saw a Hindu influence on the roadside or at a shrine I was again amazed by the cultural spread of Hinduism with no effort of proselytising, rather a unique embracing of culture from another land. I have two recent posts emphasising this phenomenon in Thailand as doubtless it is also true in Indonesia. Cambodia, China and Japan. Well this also gave me great pleasure to see my culture so well regarded in the Far East.

Brahma shrine Bangkok

Well, these are some of the sources of pleasure that I experience. sure many people have different sources. Bit these are mine and i wanted to share them. though they may feel strange to many.

 

 

 

Shiva at the temple

 

Though there is ample evidence of Hindu influences in Thailand which I covered in my previous post, there were still some surprises in this regard. I heard that there was a grand Shiva temple on the outskirts of Bangkok and made my way there. i was amazed at what i saw Рnothing like this compared to any Shiva temple in India. The scale was magnificent with every care taken to produce the best in artistry of tableaus, sculptures in plated gold, bronze and clay. The aesthetic ambience was superb and only possible because of the faith and love of the Thai people for Indian gods and myths. i was unable to find out who had created this monument to Shiva though judging from the numerous alters to the royal family I had the feeling that it was sponsored by the Thai king and his government. When i left I was in a state of ecstasy and overwhelmed by the cultural, religious and artistic  efforts that must have gone into creating such a shrine in a land not very familiar with Shiva.  Even the Birla temples in india though quite grand, could not compare with the artistry and dedication that must have produced this monument to Shiva.

As i entered the temple complex i saw two great elephants with the god Indra astride them with domes housing a Shiva Linga (phallus) and a statue of goddess laxmi on either side of a a great Linga in the middle with dragons inscribed along the shaft.

Entrance to Shiva’s shrine

As i proceeded further i witnessed the great myth of the churning of the mythical cosmic ocean with gods on one side pulling a serpent and demons on the other in the hope of gaining the treasures which the ocean could bring up. What came out was the nectar of immortality which both gods and demons coveted, the vicious poison which could end creation, and the goddess of wealth and well being prosperity and happiness, Laxmi. Vishnu the god of sustaining creation immediately claimed Laxmi as his consort, the nectar of immortality went to the gods as Vishnu disguised as a beautiful damsel held the cup for the gods to savour,  and the poison threatening to extinguish creation, but the great lord Shiva took up the challenge and drank it to save the world, his throat turning blue in the process, but leading to the preservation of the universe. This act made Lord Shiva a saviour of mankind.

The churning of the cosmic ocean

I then proceeded to one of two temple structures where Lord Shiva was enshrined to make my offerings.

Lord Shiva in the first temple

Behind the black stone statue of lord Shiv in contemplation on the creation of the universe were further images of Shiva and his family of Ganesha and the goddess  Parvarti his consort in her furious aspect of Kali decimating the demons, the root of worldly evil.

Mahakali the furious aspect of his consort Paarvati

Exploring further i came across the divine embodiment of Rama, Laxman, Sita and Lord Hanuman. Their blessed presence added a new nuance to the temple considering that all royal kings of Thailand are styled as Rama.

Rama Sita Laxman and Hanuman

Apart from the Hindu gods with Shiva as the centre piece there were  Chinese gods and goddesses and the great Buddha all in one enclosure, inviting devotees of  Hinduism,Buddhism and Taoism all in one place which was quite remarkable.

The Buddha at the shrine

Chinese gods and goddesses

There was a stall neatly installed as is the Thai way, for offerings by devotees which was quite impressive.

our personal offering

offerings for devotees

 

 

 

 

 

I thI then then went to the second temple at the complex. on the ground floor there was a marriage hall with many seats and tables and altars to the royal family along with numerous pictures of lord Hanuman and Krishna. Ascending the steps i proceeded to the first floor which was equally magnificent. As one entered there was a beautiful statue of Shiva riding his bull, Nandi.

Shiva on Nandi

As i entered the sanctum sectorum i was amazed to find the entire galaxy of Shiva and family. On a throne were seated Shiva and Parvati and on two other thrones beside them Lord Ganesha and Kartike his sons. On the steps leading up to the altar were numerous Ganeshas in different ‘mudras’ and on the other side Parvatis in dancing poses. What exquisite artistry must have gone in creating these bronzes I cannot imagine.

IMG_0919

The alter to Shiva and Parvati

As if this were not enough of spiritual grandeur next to pillars were installed gold plated statues of Sarasvati goddess of learning and culture and consort of Brahma and Brahma who is greatly revered for having helped the Buddha in gaining enlightenment.

Sarasvati

Brahma

On the side of the altar were once again Chinese gods and goddesses and behind the alter a row of Chinese sages and gods.

Chinese gods and sages

On the other side was a shrine to the Buddha in black marble

Budhhist shrine

The goddesses Durga and Amba were also not ignored and figured at the temple.

Durga and Amba

At the gate as we left we saw the two guardians of Shiva holding tridents in their hands.

guardians of Shiva

Then there was also Shiva at the gate doing his cosmic dance of creation and destruction, the Nataraja.

Naataraja

And finally to our  eternal delight on an adjoining hillock a giant gold plated statue of Shiva in supreme meditation.

Shiva on a hillock at the temple

Hats off to the Thais for their artistry, faith, spirituality and dedication.

Brahma image from Bangkok Thailand

 

On a visit to Bangkok there were many surprises.The city was spotless clean with no litter whatsoever, the traffic was orderly, if busy,no terrible honking of cars, no evidence of road rage as in India, quiet and peaceful with the swirling of tyres progress and modernization, stately high rise buildings, shopping malls and hotels. This city could compete with any western metropolis. And finally the people. Charming, polite, gentle and graceful from the greeting with folded hands and a bow by Air hostesses in the aircraft extending to further welcoming with folded hands at shops and commercial establishments and restaurants – the epitome of etiquette and courtesy. It spoke of an excellent administration, law and order with an innate natural calmness in demeanour arising doubtless from a unique and effective culture.

If you delved deeper you discovered the reason for this. Piety was the  hallmark of the Thai people. At street corners, apartment complexes, shopping centres, markets and commercial establishments, one was struck by the universal presence of altars and domed pavilions dedicated to Hindu gods and other spiritual presences called Spirit Houses.

These small temples standing on pedestals with no deities inside, fall into a category of their own, neither Buddhist nor Hindu. They have their origin in antiquity before the arrival of Hinduism and Buddhism and are essentially animist, relying on beliefs in spirits, ghostly beings and the like. They inhabit the physical world rather than that of the spirit. They enjoin people to respect nature and its mystical influences. The belief in spirits is strong and people leaving their homes for work go first to the Spirit House to worship and make offerings for good luck and to avoid misfortune. The offerings of garlands, fruit, sweets incense and candles, even Coke and Fanta and occasionally alcoholic drinks are meant to appease the spirits and obtain their blessings. People travelling around town also make it a point to pause at spirit houses to make offerings.

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Spirit house with offerings

The nature of the faith in them is different from worship at Hindu altars and Buddhist temples. Buddhism tolerates this worship and does not oppose it. This may be due to Buddhisms deep respect for nature.Many of the spirit Houses are consecrated by Brahmin  priests or Buddhist monks.

On the other hand the Hindu alters have exquisite sculptures particularly of Brahma the Hindu god of creation all over the city in stone bronze and clay and Lord Ganesha with daily offerings of marigolds garlands incense fruit and sweets.

roadside Ganesha

roadside Brahmas

roadside Brahma

I therefore went to visit the shrine dedicated to Brahma in the heart of the city, The shrine was actually created by the Thai government. When developers sought to build a hotel at the site there were so many mishaps that labourers refused to continue, believing the project to be cursed. The government shifted the hotel construction to a neighboring plot and instead dedicated the spot for a shrine to Brahma. It then became a place of pilgrimage for Thais. The beauty of the canopy inlaid with glass and stone and the golden image of Brahma took my breath away.

Brahma’s shrine in Bangkok

Thai worshipers had gathered in large numbers on a week day making offerings of elephants and horses made of clay. The profusion of marigold garlands and incense showed the deep faith and reverence in which he is held. The devotees included the young ,even teenagers in ardent prayer. If a wish is granted the devotee pays for a classical dance in Brahmas honour. Dancers wait ready in an enclosure.

devotees

Young worshipers

Crowds at Brahma shrine bowing and praying

Wish granted worshiper pays for a classical dance to honour Brahma

I then drove to other parts of town to explore further the extent of Hindu influences in Thai culture. I came across two more shrines dedicated to Ganesh the elephant headed god and a Thai invention , the amalgamation in one gold statue 10 feet high of the Hindu trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, one head for each deity. The crowds here were no thinner, with worshipers at the Ganesh statue seeking wisdom and removal of obstacles ( students generally come here before exams) and those at the Trimurti for love wealth and a list of other benefits. A nearby stall provided garlands and other offerings while a board proclaimed the benefits of prayer in English and Thai. Grand canopied domes adorned the shrines which were in the commercial centre.

Ganesh shrine in Bangkok

Trimurti of Brahma Vishnu and Shiv

Lord Indra

Indra beauty of sculpture

I proceeded further and came across yet another shrine dedicated to lord Indra exquisitely carved from green stone in another quarter, with worshipers. What superb artistry and craftsmanship the Thais possess – I haven’t come across such mastery in sculpture¬† even in India except in ancient temples. Indra, the chief of all Vedic sub deities associated with the elements, is popular in Thailand for granting boons and has a large following. I was surprised to find that every bench in parks in Bangkok had a golden emblem fixed on the back seat showing Indra riding his mythical elephant.

Near a 5 star hotel i was amazed to see a pavilion with a deity in it half Shiva as a male and Vishnu the other half as a female a unique conjoining of two deities which only the Thais could conceive of. In India the cosmic hermaphrodite is depicted as Shiva and his consort in one body.

Shiva as male Vishnu as female in one body

As if this were not enough I found a shrine for the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Laxmi in the heart of the popular Gaysome Mall in Bangkok. The story went that when a number of bankruptcies occurred in the neighborhood , Thai merchants decided to seek her protection and blessings and installed the shrine.

Laxmi at the roof of a mall

Outside the Intercontinental hotel another shrine was dedicated to Narayan, showing a bronze statue of Vishnu astride the Garuda.

Narayan, Vishnu astride a Garuda

 

However apart from the shrines and altars at public places there are only a few Hindu temples in Thailand, one in particular is dedicated to the goddess, in Bangkok which has become a centre of pilgrimage for Thais. Hardly any Hindus or Indians are seen there compared to the numerous Thais who seek blessings from the priests, bow and pray intently and make offerings. On Navratra the great Hindu festival celebrated throughout India ushering in the new Hindu year,and invoking the presence of the goddess during the nine nights, the Hindu temple in Bangkok becomes a centre of activity. Thais devoutly carry images of the goddess through the streets in palanquins and road side vendors assist the procession for several kilometers. There is no conflict with other faiths and the Thai authorities enable the procession providing police protection and arrangements to keep the crowds orderly. It is amazing that worship of the goddess has taken root in Buddhist Thailand.

 

imagesharadha-sharada-navratri-hindu-festival-sathorn-road-bangkok-thailand-D15TKBimage (1)

Many  Thais believe that it is easier to win favour of and access a Hindu god for mundane purposes of daily life, than the Buddha who is more concerned with teaching right behaviour and helping with attainment of Nirvana or enlightenment.

While Brahma is universally revered in Thailand, in India there is only one temple dedicated to him. His role in helping the Buddha gain enlightenment is the reason for Thai devotion. He is also believed to grant all wishes.

I didn’t see many Buddhas at road side shrines though 98 % of Thais are Theravada Buddhists. The grand golden Buddha, 50 tons of solid gold and other gold plated Buddhas found in numerous ornate temples where worshipers flock in large numbers from the youth to older generations indicates a strong and universal faith and spirituality. Youth are enjoined to assume monkhood for a couple of months before seeking employment to discipline them and familiarize them with Buddhist teachings. The benign presence of the Buddhas is aesthetically pleasing and the ultimate in art and sculpture.

The Golden Buddha

 

Rclining Buddha, Parinirvana

Buddha at the Royal Temple, a Vihara for monks

Mahathat temple Bangkok for training and housing monks

Hindu God’s again make an appearance outside Buddhist temples called Wats, such as a bronze Vishnu pulling a bow outside a Buddhist chapel at the national museum, a real work of art at which I kept gazing for long.

Vishnu with bow

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Again at the royal Vihara where relics of the Buddha are enshrined, outside stand guard two giant statues of Shiva and Vishnu.

Vishnu outside the shrine of Buddha relics

Shiva at the shrine of relics

The corridors at the royal palace complex are replete with murals depicting scenes from the Hindu epic the Ramayana with good reason. The national dance the Ramakein is derived from the Ramayana.

The Hindu influence is strong at the royal palace where the chief priest called Rajguru is a Thai Brahmin assisted by a group of Brahmins from India for performing rituals associated with the monarchs coronation, birth and funeral. By tradition this takes precedence over Buddhist prayers and rituals, inherited from royal practices in ancient India like bathing the monarch with holy waters from the rivers and chanting prayers in Sanskrit. Then follow the Buddhist monks with their chants and prayers in keeping with the Buddhist Theravada rites. There is total tolerance for the Hindu customs and gods and it is difficult to separate Buddhism and Hinduism. Thais feel that Hinduism is not a separate religion  but an offshoot of Buddhism. Here there is amalgamation of the two creating an ambrosial mix of two great traditions both having their origins in India. The Buddha was after all an Indian prince several hundred years before Christ, whose teachings spread far and wide  to South East Asia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan,Mongolia, China and Japan. In India the Brahmin priesthood sought to divorce Buddhism from India. In Thailand there is no such divorce. The two coexist in total harmony as one.

Not therefore surprising that the monarch is considered¬† as an incarnation of Vishnu and assumes the title of Rama his avatar. Thus we have monarchs for generations styling themselves as Rama I to Rama XI. Thus numerous streets are named Rama I to XI. The Thai national emblem is the Garuda, Vishnu’s steed, half man and half eagle. On the walls of Buddhist temples the Garuda is shown as holding up the sky. Banks have the Garuda as their logo as too the official stationary of the Thai government. Alters dedicated to the king have a Garuda at his feet.

Altar to the king at a shopping mall

Shops are full of Buddhas and Hindu gods. One popular theme is Lord Rama in Thai royal attire pulling his bow.

Ayothia the ancient capital of Thailand is a tourist’s delight. Here there is a reclining Buddha of stone some 200 feet long in an open field. A giant Buddha statue adorns one of the ancient temples.

Buddha at Ayothia

The very name Ayothia is derived from the Indian town Ayodhia considered the birthplace of lord Rama in mythology.

Finally I visited the magnificent museum near the Royal Palace complex in the old city. Apart from numerous Buddhas in various Mudras there were the Hindu gods from antiquity.

Shiva at the museum

Vishnu at the museum

One final surprise awaited us as we departed. The Thai airport is named Swarnbhumi, which in Sanskrit means land of gold, indeed so appropriate. As we entered the lobby we witnessed a grand tableau depicting the Hindu myth of the churning of the cosmic seas by gods and demons holding a serpent with Vishnu astride a tortoise round which the churning was taking place. This produced the nectar of immortality, a vicious poison and the goddess of wealth. Here too the Thais had embraced a Hindu myth for all visitors to see on arrival and departure. As we departed, these memories of Thailand’s Hindu connections and the extraordinary piety and spirituality of the Thai people left us overwhelmed. We fell in love with Thailand and its gracious people.

The holy churning of the cosmic ocean

Vishnu on a turtle at the churning

 

There is total tolerance for the Hindu customs and gods and it is difficult to separate and Hinduism. Thais feel that Hinduism is not a separate religion but an offshoot of Buddhism and there is amalgamation of the two creating an ambrosial mix of two great traditions both having their origins in India.

Kesri Singh Mandawa

Suddenly someone who you loved and knew intimately all your life leaves your radar screen and disappears like a fallen aircraft does from the screen of Air Traffic Controllers.  My dear cousin Kesri is one such, who after a month in the ICU at hospital had a heart seizure.  He had stopped smoking for the past twenty years and took care of his kidneys which a month ago were no worse than mine. But after his youngest brother passed away, ten years younger, he was quite inconsolable, though he didn’t show it. He arranged a grand funeral for him at his village fortress, but after the cremation, for the first time, he began neglecting himself and went out canvassing for the General Elections in India in the open 48 degree midday sun, and suffered a heat stroke and kidney failure. He was rushed to Jaipur three hours away and admitted to hospital where they placed him in an ICU. There when I visited him, he joyously greeted me, waving both arms and was also chatty with the nurses. But he did not survive beyond a month.

Kesri’s Funeral at Mandawa

 

Sure, he must then have joined his parents’ souls waiting for him. So dear Kesri then left this world and joined the spirit world meeting his mother, father and 95 year old grandfather. 

Dear Kesri is therefore, alas, no more. What a maverick personality he was and an achiever. He had a finger in every pie and a concern and compassion for his family, extended family and people at large. He was always there for anyone who approached him with a kind word, providing help they needed. He looked after his brothers, their families, his own family, wife, daughters and a son, and even the grandchildren. He was always on the lookout to meet his uncles and their kids, arranging parties and get-togethers so that no connection was ever lost, like a grandsire.

In that respect, he was much like his parents whose home was always open to relatives and all and sundry with the warmest hospitality and affection you can imagine. From childhood my siblings and I were always there. He inherited those qualities.

He was also a great entrepreneur, full of initiative, and built his fortress in the village into a grand four-star hotel where tourists from overseas and home visited, feasted and were provided every conceivable comfort. It is today on the map of the world, ‚Äú Mandawa Castle‚ÄĚ, and in Jaipur he turned their villa into another hotel called Mandawa Haveli. Places to be a must-visit for foreigners. He also set up a Desert Camp with 50 rooms and tents, replete with the latest luxuries for tourists in the village. Indians and foreigners came in flocks to this renowned but remote tourist site promoted meticulously in foreign capitals and on the website.

He discharged all his responsibilities with equal vigour and concern, marrying his daughters and son with great fanfare at the fortress in Mandawa where governors, maharajas, ministers, relatives and the social elite all congregated to enjoy the festivities. These events were spectacular and full of traditional hospitality which few can equal. Dance, folk music, torch bearers, puppet shows, and the finest cuisine and drinks to fulfil all expectations were all there. What fun we had at these events with Kesri the magnificent host.

He cared for the aged older generation with the same fervour ensuring their presence at all these events like his 90 year old mother‚Äôs sister, who circumambulating his coffin, said, ‚ÄúI have lived too long. Now it‚Äôs my time to go.‚ÄĚ

I knew him first as a kid of 7 joining the ETON of India, Mayo College. We remained in touch over decades a close and warm relationship, as he grew from being an energetic kid into a great entrepreneur, full of compassion for family concerns and the desire to develop his fortress.

He also joined as governing member of Mayo College at Ajmer, Rajasthan, and developed it with fervour, always present at its events. He then spawned an extension of the college for resident girl students and a Mayo Girls came up where people from faraway places like Nepal sent their daughters to receive boarding education which was hardly available elsewhere.  At Mayo College he developed sports like polo and golf which facilities didn’t exist in other public schools.

Kesri was always a dynamic personality, full of energy and spirit, despite his health, and managed to survive to the age of 73. I called on him a year ago and requested a peculiar favour. I said, ‚ÄúWhen I die, I would like you to take care of my funeral.‚ÄĚ He smiled and said, as was his wont, ‚ÄúSure, I will, but who knows who will go first‚Äú- Prophetic words for he has preceded me.

I miss him terribly and I am sorry being overseas could not be there for his funeral.

He came thrice to see me when I fell and broke my hip and had surgery. Each time, he was so full of love and concern. May his great soul rest in eternal peace with his dear parents.

I remember, vividly, just two months ago at the funeral at the fortress he sat beside me as the cremation proceeded and chatted for half an hour as if he had a premonition that this would be our last meeting. He was always full of humour and in parting said that I should spend another night there considering that when his mother had wed the Mandawa barat had spent three nights at our village.

It is going to be a challenge for his only surviving brother, Randhir, some seven years younger, to bear the loss, guide the family affairs, and carry the Mandawa flag, having lost three brothers in as many years. Our sympathies go out to him. May God give him the courage, strength and discretion to carry on.

Randhir Mandawa

And Kesri‚Äôs dear wife, Bindu, who cared for him all his life, as a doctor would have, must be quite inconsolable. Whenever I asked him about his health, he would say, ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt have a clue. Ask Bindu, she knows it all.‚ÄĚ May God give her the strength to bear this irreparable loss to be able to guide her children and grandchildren in the times ahead. May his spirit be constantly with her at her elbow to provide the same strength love and compassion as he did when he was alive.

Kesri and Bindu with their children: Geetanjali, Priyanjali and Shivarjun.

His two daughters Gitanjali and Priyanjali are now mature, with children almost out of their teens. He had the pleasure of being a grandfather many times over. They and his son, Shivarjun, are sure to miss his guiding hand, but he taught them about life and they should fare well.

Never failing to discharge his duties to the very end, he went campaigning for the General Elections in the midday sun which proved fatal. As they say the brave conscientious warrior was brought home dead to find eternal peace and rest.

Here, I am in conclusion, reminded of Rajput warriors who became the legendary ‚Äú Jhunjhars‚ÄĚ who kept on fighting and remained in the saddle even when their heads were severed, like dear Kesri at the Election Campaign and later battling life in the ICU. This was a true Jhunjhar if ever there was one.¬†

Kesri: The Jhunjhar

 

REINCARNATION  kRISHNA .COM

The Gita allows  a soul precisely 8.4 million reincarnations on the difficult path of evolution. Early Christianity also had a concept of reincarnation which was later discarded. New Age thinkers and philosophers with the evidence produced by Near Death Experiences (NDE), hypnotic regression leading to past life recall by psychologists, and the activity of Mediums in allowing possession by spirits for those wishing to contact departed loved ones, are now universally inclined to accept reincarnation as a cardinal truth.

On the basis of my readings of the subject from philosophy, religion, New Age insights, NDEs, books by famous mediums and the occasional reported cases of people who recall their previous reincarnation and visit their former families, I have arrived at one conclusion with growing faith in it.

Not only we on the earthly plane know little about the intricate complexities and reality of the spiritual world which is as vast as our material one if not more so, but the spiritual world also knows little about our material world and is keen to know more. Therefore there appear to be two purposes of reincarnation.

One being to help the soul evolve. Its metal cannot be fully tested till it goes through the harrowing experiences of life on the material plane, time and again down from its home at the sublime heights of the spiritual life and world. It is basically a necessary but unwelcome option which is always challenging for souls who would rather enjoy the eternal beatitude of the spiritual life, where they are more aware through extra sensory perceptions, more loved and loving in divine grace and in a state of bliss. But they are not permitted to tarry there for eternity and must enter earth school to be tested and to evolve into greater souls, even if reluctantly. 

Gods creation is made in a way where spirit is attracted to matter even as matter is attracted to spirit and so they merge and mix as often as possible  in a union that matches the mind of the Universal spirit we call God the creator of both, though for mysterious reasons known to him alone he keeps them apart as two coexistent realities produced by his supreme imagination and pensive introspection about his own reality.

The other reason for reincarnation is the absence of knowledge of the material world by the spiritual one. This is my gut feeling and strong impression. Angels spirits souls and their mentors have little clue of the goings on here. The reincarnation of souls apart from testing their metal also reveals the truth of material life and the way matter acts in different situations which do not exist in the eternal spiritual world in a state of total harmony and beatitude. The impulses of the material world are totally different from the spiritual one. While God knows all the answers his spiritual world does not. And its intense curiosity impels reincarnations of its souls.

I think God is equidistant from both of his worlds, he leaves his creation alone till there is a crisis when through his infinite grace and concern he assumes the form of a soul, WHICH MUST BE A SUPREME TRIAL OF HIS ESSENCE and reincarnates himself as Avatar or prophet to restore equilibrium,and experience all the trials and tribulations of material earthly life as did Rama, Krishna, the Buddha and Christ. 

Whether he does the same for the spiritual half i naturally have no clue. In the spiritual world there are masters and great souls  that is his way of producing a presence there. Quite possibly the spiritual world also requires guidance as we do here. In Hinduism both are aspects of Maya or illusion, the supreme imagination of God in contemplation.

So, two God induced mysteries apart, the spiritual and the material, both surely dear to his heart and mind. his divinity is in both.

This divinity is present not merely at the spiritual plane but equally on the material and physical levels. Matter and Spirit are integrally conjoined and inseparable. The divine is thus universally present both as matter and spirit. Matter and Spirit, two facets of the Universal Essence or God, are not only inseparable and united but also exhibit attraction for one another by being in a state of perpetual interaction. While the material aspect is manifest, finite and perishable and recycled from creation to creation, the spiritual aspect is infinite, imperishable, constant and eternal.

Matter is passionately attracted to the presence of spirit and spirit never leaves matter alone either, probing, infiltrating and combining with it.

He allows the two aspects to come together, being part of his unity,  through the process of reincarnation of souls which provides some insight to each about the other without merging them totally as is his scheme and purpose. Unity in diversity. i would even venture to conjecture that Gods way of acquainting himself fully with his creation and being an indivisible part of it is through the reincarnation of souls which after all as said in the Gita are his own reincarnated essence that neither acts nor is responsible for any karma but acting in the human body run by the ego as a counsellor and guide the conscience in man.

This concept of the soul is quite different from the Judaic Christian or Islamic ones. There it is not the material ego but the spiritual entity they call the ‘soul’ which is active not inactive and certainly not a divine essence but one that is responsible for all good and bad deeds in material life and therefore subject to judgement at the end of a life and a place either in heaven hell or purgatory. In their concept the only difference between the human persona and the soul is that in the one case it is material and alive and in the other¬† matter transformed into spirit the same entity just with change in form but liable equally to judgement. The soul is no godly essence merely a spiritual aspect of the persona of a being assuming such a form after life.

In Hinduism the soul is God incarnate incapable of no  sin or karma a guiding light within, a beacon to god. The Gita calls it inconceivable, a marvel, a wonder, and none know it. The Gita says that it is easier to visualise God through meditation than access the soul within. The spirit of god is in every being and atom of creation whether spiritual or material.

The Buddhist concept does not speak of the soul as an essence of god within man as it does not talk about any super being like god at all. Neither do the Jains.

So we have the Hindu concept of the soul, the Judaic and the Buddhist/Jain concepts apart from the the New age mystical one which is close to the Hindu concept. My point is that they are inseparable because god is omnipresent in every aspect of both, being his divine dream. I wish to emphasise that the spirit world is not conversant with the material aspect of god and wishes to be through incarnation. the physical world equally is ignorant of the spiritual creation of God and seeks to access it through mysticism religion prayer and meditation.  The souls evolution is quite another matter and requires reincarnation, if you take the Hindu point of view of the soul.

In summary, God is ubiquitous, the soul is his essence, separated from him in the illusion of creation – he has diffused himself to understand his dream of creation. When the souls fully evolve they will join the ocean of godhead and become one with him again giving him full insight of his dream of creation.Till then they will reincarnate and evolve understanding matter and spirit and communicate that to godhead. Meanwhile his spiritual and material worlds will remain separate and seek to intensely communicate with one another the eternal dance of spirit with matter to get to know each other and finally conjoin as one to gods final satisfaction and understanding of his glorious dream.

kRISHNA EXPLAINING THE SOULS REALITY TO ARJUN IN THE GITA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

apple snail

Of all living creatures the snail is perhaps the most curious. Being a nature lover I have observed them for long. Slow self reliant with its home securely fixed on its back it forages for algae. Its mouth opening and closing constantly. Its eyes that can view light rest behind its two antenna¬† which probe the environment very effectively. There are two species, one is a hermaphrodite, the other is either male or female but can change gender at will! The hermaphrodite variety is natures boldest experiment. When two snails of this type come close and are attracted to one another for mating they instantly decide which one will be male and which one female for that particular episode. Or if both decide to be male they will exchange sperm and retain it to fertilise their eggs later. That must be considered a wonder of nature’s playful experiments.

In my fish tank i have some large Apple or Mystery snails. Frequently they come together while foraging. They keep the fish tank clean by consuming algae and food droppings for the fish. Recently i observed their mating. the male ( this is not the hermaphrodite species) climbed the shell of the female then produced a penis from its neck which probed within her shell to fertilise her. This went on for a couple of hours. The female did not turn into a male luckily. My snails keep changing gender and its difficult to know who is permanently one or the other.

The snails in my tank are a happy lot, slowly gliding up the glass cleaning it of microbes then remain pensive having fed till another of their kind approaches. Then in their slow slimy way they get excited to know what the others gender is,  to know if there was any need to change its own!! Then begins the strange courtship of one climbing the shell of another and probing the other with its sex apparatus. Then both become still and proceed with the orgy for hours examining one another. The one choosing to be female then days later moves to the top of the fish tank to lay her egg capsule on some plant or edge. there are some 500 eggs, most eaten up by fish when they emerge. But multiply they do ever so often yet there is little evidence of offspring in the tank. What a wonderful creature this is, basically sightless yet full of awareness with the two antenna, foraging merrily and being so innovative with sex. Never a dull moment for them. Finally at close of day crawling into their shell homes and closing the  trap door the Operculum

  What a  wonderful way to end the day Рwhat they think of when coiled in their secure homes. surely there must be some thoughts even for a snail. If it can think to move in a direction, forage for algae with its large mouth and feel around with its antenna and have glorious sex for hours, it must have some thoughts when home, what it will do next.

Yes , i love my snails and the fulfilled lives they lead in their quiet slow lives. And then they also perform a service for me, by keeping my tank clean as scavengers do. And they have no demands for food air or filters. Im waiting for the time I can see some baby snails moving around. Well not yet!! Incidentally the snails i have are called Golden Mystery snails.

apple snails mating

intense love

 

Asttrophytum Myriostigma – Star Plant

Since childhood Ive always had a fascination for the cactus. why I’m not clear but whenever i saw a cactus i would gaze at it for long observe its special architecture different from plants and wonder at how it survived. i always treated it as some kind of pet animal that had presence but didn’t move or make a fuss. As i grew older I examined this strange fascination. The cactus never asked for much, no daily water and strong in all weathers. It knew the art of survival. Nightly it would quietly absorb carbon di oxide, then as day dawned it would use it to photosynthesise with its fat succulent stems which stored water to produce its food. It hardly grew and had spines to ward off predators and catch the first morning dew drops in a desert with no water or rainfall, which would then trickle to its roots and quickly be absorbed in the fat succulent stems. What a wonder of a creature i would think. So self sufficient and self reliant sitting still like a yogi in meditation. It did grow imperceptibly thickening its water filled stems protected by a waxy coat to prevent water loss, always looking plump and happy never withering like other plants with neglect. Its architectural contours were perfect round with pretty shapely stems and the spines. In many cases these spines looked purely ornamental than to ward off people. I loved my little cactus and daily gazed at it trying to communicate to its desert soul. If you water a cactus daily it will die. Its that kind of strong hardy plant that does not like pampering. So I would give it sunlight not keeping it on my desk table and water¬† once a week. It thrived and grew. Like a fat pumpkin. Im sure it was aware of my loving presence. Then one surprising day i noticed a protuberance at the top, a kind of boil. As i watched daily it grew into a thick bud quite out of keeping with its general make up of stems and spines. It assumed a brighter green colour and finally the bud grown real big burst into flower, my happiest moment. no small flower but a lotus like big single flower red and yellow and bigger than the cactus. a miracle of nature. It said to me I’m happy and sexy. The flower remained for a month before it had done its purpose and fertilised its ovum, then it dried and fell away. The happy cactus then grew fast and became double its usual size. It was for me always like a dear pet.

Then I began my crazy pursuit of other cacti. I went to distant nurseries to collect all species and brought them home. My family thought i had gone crazy. Opuntias with yellow and white thorns, with a character of their own, succulents of all kinds and my favourites the globular spineless ornamental type. My favourite was the Astropfytum Miriostigma translated as starplant with several dots. It was a grey blue smooth stemmed plant with few spines and a myriad pretty dots on its sexy fleshy stems which were parted in four. Then one of the Opuntias taught me a lesson. my vision suddenly blurred. The eye doctor said you have a ‘thief’ in your eye. One of the hairlike spines had travelled and implanted itself in my cornea. He surgically removed it and said i had better get rid of the Opuntias. so i did.

Then decades later in my retirement i saw some globular cacti in a nursery and brought two as pets. They give me no end of pleasure. A mystic astrologer remarked, these are not just plants but souls so you better look out. Its not considered auspicious to keep them. I didn’t care, if they are souls they must be the friendly type.

Some of my favourites:

A poem inspired by my unusual fascination for these plants:

                                          THE  CACTUS

Halls of ochre butcher as they chase

One drop.

Not one insect spared but splits

In parching,

Sound of dry grass crackling,

Eyes thaw in ochre dust.

Like a dwarf sits the cactus.

Awkward limbs but affection in the interior,

Soft pulpy green-walled translucency

Where the moisture drips.

But without,

Its challenged thorn-lusty prurience grapples

With the desert’s grip.

Hate is an outer armour,

Love’s moisture is in the stem

And there is proof for when

The desert awakens in the rain,

Bulbs of chlorophyll

Explode in monsoon blooms

The milk pulp making fissures on the ragged skin;

Blood red hues, hibiscus violet

Flowers fed on milk. Then

How large the hidden heart

Bandaged in bristling brutality

For survival.

And now is the time of seed’s revival;

Another need brings the dwarf’s art.

 

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