30 November 2012

The amazing cockroach

The last time I was with my friend A. (the contributor of the snake encounters stories in my previous post), our discussion somehow turned to cockroaches...

Before I moved to India, my experience with cockroaches was very limited. Thankfully I never had to share spaces with them, and the cockroaches I had seen were quite small… compared to the super-size cockroaches you see here. Luckily, I rarely encounter one at home and when I do, it’s usually already dead because the cat immediately stalks and kills anything smaller than herself. I’ve also learnt how to deal with them – dead or alive – I just take a broom and sweep them out the door.

My husband told me some amusing stories about cockroaches at the office. One day at the canteen, a co-worker found a dead cockroach in his food. When he complained to the management, the explanation he got was: "We have a new chef."

Another colleague told him about a co-worker who had the misfortune of finding one in her coffee cup. He thought it important to add that the unfortunate girl was a vegetarian.

Anyway, back to the discussion on cockroaches… A. mentioned an article in The Hindu by Menaka Gandhi which listed many interesting facts about cockroaches. A faithful Hindu reader, I didn’t recall the article but made a mental note to look it up. A day or so later, I picked up some newspapers I had put aside to read in more detail and one had the cockroach article...

So here are some amazing facts you probably didn’t know about the cockroach:

It can run three miles in one hour — the fastest insect alive.

It can hold its breath for 40 minutes.

It can live a week without a head, only dying of thirst because it has no mouth to drink water.

It can squeeze into cracks that are 1.6 millimetres thick — the equivalent of you trying to fit into a football.

It can survive temperatures as low as 0 degrees centigrade but when it gets really cold, it likes snuggling with humans or any other warm body.

It can recognise members of its own family just by their smell.

Its heart is a simple tube that can pump blood both backwards and forward and even stop at will without harming the insect.

The cockroach is the greatest escape artist of all time with an uncanny ability to sense danger, whether that of a live predator or a broom. How does it do that? With its hair (when was the last time your hair told you anything?)

You can read the full article by Menaka Gandhi here.

27 November 2012

Snake encounters

In a recent post, I had written about some of the animals that share our living space, often without us noticing them. I had also mentioned that the night watchman had seen a snake on the road one night.

Snakes are quite common, even in cities. Recently a friend found a baby cobra in her garage. In Whitefield, on the city’s eastern limits, snake sightings are even more common. A friend has seen cobras in her Whitefield compound on several occasions and the community office has anti-venom available at all times. Snake catchers are often called in to come and catch the forlorn snake and take it to a forest outside the city, where it won’t be disturbed by humans. Snakes are not usually killed because they’re considered to be a manifestation of the snake god and killing it would be inauspicious.

Luckily I haven’t had many encounters with snakes. I did see a cobra once in Sri Lanka (caught in the photo above). And last year while travelling with a friend in Orissa, we saw what we first thought was a monkey’s tail resting on a wooden fence next to our cottage. But then the ‘tail’ started to slither away… which took some time, it was so big! And we had slept with all the doors and windows wide open because it was so hot!

Just when I was thinking of writing this post on snakes, I got an email from my friend A who lives in rural Tamil Nadu. The subject of the email was ‘snake stories’. I thought I would share them here:

About a month ago was out for my late afternoon walk. It was about 1/2 hr. before dark. Walking down a pathway saw a woman in front of me stopped. She was looking at something. As I got closer saw the scene of 2 snakes wrapped around each other. We stood in silence watching them struggling and every so often making a move like kissing each other! They were smack in the middle of the path so no way to walk around them. After about 10 min. we turned back to find an alternate way home. We couldn't figure out whether the snakes were fighting or mating! Next day looked on the Net and found something on youtube that looked similar to what I had witnessed. It was mentioned as a mating ritual. A week later met a guy who is a snake catcher. Described what I had seen and he said that they were definitely fighting to be 'top snake'. The amazing thing was though that they usually move in and out of the bush but in this case they stayed on the pathway as though giving a show. They were non-poisonous rat snakes. If they had been cobras don't think I would have stayed so close!
There is a man, Rom by name, who is a herpetologist. He has travelled the world studying snake habits. His wife writes a column in the newspaper called "My husband and other animals". The articles are both educative and amusing. She tells of the time Rom was working in Papua New Guinea studying pythons. One day he arrived home after being away for a few days and found his house door broken open. Just inside the door the thieves had dropped their tools. Nothing had been stolen. Why? His window sills were very wide and he kept pythons, for study purposes, on several of the ledges. When the thieves saw the snakes they hightailed it out of there!
The neighbour where I stayed for 18 months had a habit of beating snakes to death. Neighbours would call upon him when necessary. One day he thought he had killed the offending snake. As he walked away though the snake started chasing him. Lucky for him, he managed to run to safety.
I stayed in a nice little cottage for 1 year. It was located just outside a cashew trope and seemed to be in the pathway for snakes travelling back and forth for their food. One night I arrived home at around 9:30 p.m. Got ready for bed and on my way to the staircase (bedroom was upstairs) saw movement behind a chair located just next to the staircase. Behind the chair was a fat brown snake with diamond shape patches on it. It moved toward the staircase. Decided to talk to it as could think of no other options. Said something about 'I won't hurt you. When I come downstairs in the morning I want you gone'. It moved back behind the chair and I went upstairs, got into bed, making sure the mosquito net was tightly tucked around my bed. Next morning the snake was gone! Found out from someone later that it was a Russell's viper, poisonous.
My colleague, M, tells the story of a cobra falling into his rainwater tank. The snake could not get its grip on the sides of the tank to climb out. So M put a ladder into the tank and the snake came out. A week or so later M was walking towards his house when he saw a snakehead raised up moving back and forth. M stopped. After a few more movements the snake went away. He believes it was the cobra he rescued saying a thank you.

My next post will be about another type of creepy crawly! (Also inspired by my friend A.)

16 November 2012

Bizarre Indian ads

There are some ads I see in the Indian media, either in print, on billboards or on television which I find surprising and more than a bit peculiar. Some leave me completely baffled, and a few are even controversial.

I often come across an ad in magazines for Elite Matrimony (see above). It’s a glossy picture of a young woman dressed in an evening gown and flashy jewellery. “Match it right for your child,” it says across the top. This is followed by a list: “handbags, chocolate, perfumes, wardrobe, education, French fragrance, Ivy League, Parisian chic, Italian leather, Swiss indulgence”. It then suggests: “After having provided the best for your children, help them discover life’s most precious gift: A HAPPY MARRIAGE”. Elite Matrimony is described as a ‘premium matchmaking service’. Across the bottom it says: “Specially created for the crème de la crème of the society, Elite Matrimony finds you that exceptional marriage partner befitting your social standing. Many leading families, both Indian and NRI, have benefited from this unique service.” I wonder how they choose their clients… do they ask how many millions they have in the bank? Which Ivy League university they studied at? Where they go on holiday? What handbag does Madam carry? And her favourite perfume?

Then there are the ads for the many whitening products on the market. I had written about fairness creams before in this post. However, there are whitening products meant not only for facial use. Have you heard of whitening deodorants? It seems it’s not enough to have dry and nice-smelling armpits – they have to be white too. An ad for Dove Whitening Deodorant shows a young women raising her arms over her head exposing her fair underarms. “No more dark patches – with new Dove Whitening Deodorant. For even toned underarms,” says the ad.

Another ad for a similar product by Nivea, drives the message further (and makes me howl with laughter). “Ride that bike. Slice that frog. Try that raft. Get that tattoo,” it says in small letters (I wish I were a fly on the wall when the copyrighters were coming up with this ad!), followed by: “Be bold, go sleeveless,” in big, bold letters. Yes, raising your sleeveless arms is a bold and courageous act!

Watch this ad for Dove asking women to ‘raise their arms to the mirror’:

And this one by Nivea which says: ‘go sleeveless on him’:

The fairness obsession hit a new low (pun intended) with the ad for ‘Clean and Dry’, described as an ‘intimate wash’. This television ad shows a young couple sitting in their living room. The man is busy reading the newspaper and the woman is looking off in the distance with a resentful pout. She then has a shower and uses this product... “Freshness… and Fairness” flashes on the screen. Presto! Her husband’s attitude towards her automatically changes! Watch the ad here:

More recently, there’s been a lot of talk about another controversial product called ‘18 Again’. The marketing for this ‘female renewal gel’ is quite aggressive and clever. A (hilarious!) video of the commercial started circulating as an ad on Facebook and You Tube. And from the bus the other day, I noticed that many major arteries of the city are plastered with poster-size ads for this product. ‘Poor intimacy?’ asks one. ‘Post pregnancy issues?’ says the next. Followed by ‘Sour relationship?’ and ‘Lack of confidence?’… ‘Here’s the answer to the question you fear the most…’

Needless to say there has been a lot of reaction and backlash to this ridiculous product which claims to empower women. You can watch the commercial here:

Elite matchmaking, fair and even-toned armpits, white and ‘renewed’ nether parts… What’s next??