Confidence and self esteem: learn’ings’ from TV

While I didn’t participate in the #MeToo movement on social media, for personal reasons, I am privileged to live in the time where it happened. I lament about all things going wrong in our time,  but one must witness some things that will be ‘good’ history (or so I hope, remember history is written by the victors). And #MeToo is just that. The making of good history.

I say this as I think of all the woman who fought for universal suffrage in the U.S. and Britain. In India universal adult franchise was implemented in our very first elections in 1950 and even before independence there was no real debate about whether or not women ‘should’ vote..India has a strange relationship with women and I have to say that current television shows are certainly not cultivating what one would call a forward thinking, ahead-of-her-time type of woman audience. And the Indian males who catch the shows are prone to think that in the end, all women want is to one-up other women by hook or crook and be a glamorous slave to their husbands and in laws, while still getting graduate degrees or fighting criminals. It is a bunch of befuddled women: pursuing herculean tasks trivially and jealousy or rivalry full throttle. Or this is my fading, vague recollection from TV I stopped watching 16 years ago, but still hear in the background when my mom calls or when I am visiting home. (Yes.. yay for me!)

I also finally got my head around why some people think feminists are belligerent and pushy. Those people should watch an Indian soap mother-in-law to get what those two words mean. And yes, they are misinformed, probably misdirected and definitely provincial (that is a new word I learned to use from the wonderful TV show, ‘The Durrells in Corfu’). As for female right activists and supporters: I don’t think being aggressive is a crime, in fact it is a crime if one is not, because believe me, everyone else is aggressive about their agenda. They may not show that face on camera because they don’t have to. They have money and power and they are the white male or upper-caste male, or maybe just rich male and their female partners (ahem.. Melania Trump) who dominate with ease and flair, as much as they love looking down at “screeching” women who want basic rights. And while still on Melania Trump , I believe she knows what Trump is doing, she wore that jacket probably in response to Stormy Daniels and oh, just about everything else that is going on,but because she is dumb, she wore it to the absolute worst place possible while visiting the refugee detained children!

Talking about women who are NOT dumb and ok, may only exist on TV (and I will come back to the Durrells soon). # SILK. I have never been that much in love with a female lead. Not ever. I am sure the #newdoctor will change that to some extent, and yes I have looked in awe at many female leads over the years. The operative phrase as the senior clerk Billy says in the show, applies for me too, regarding Ms Martha Costello, Queens Counsellor (QC, that is what Silk means) is:  “How I feel for Ms Costello surpasseth all understanding.” Maxine Peake as the “cross between Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and a small rottweiler” (again Billy’s description in an episode) is truly the type of woman I want to be. I may already be the small rottweiler part. She is a defense lawyer with a soul, who believes in Habeas corpus, personal liberty, innocent until proven guilty and the right to defend oneself above that of any nationality or religion or just about anything else (paraphrased from one sentence she speaks as she defends a minor about to be extradited to the US with unproven connections to a terrorist attack). Unlike any american law show that I have ever watched (Ally McBeal, what-was-that-one-with-DylanMcDermott, the good wife etc) there are no deals that she cuts. She doesn’t need to, she looks at the people she is defending and can see their souls and then she goes and actually does her job of examining evidence for loopholes, subtle ways of manipulating witnesses (e.g., just by extending the amount of time a photo is displayed onscreen, with other photos for identification) and then cross examines till people quail. When forced to be a prosecutor opposing a far less competent defense lawyer than her, she practically does the job for both the defense and prosecution. She says in her silk interview that she likes to win because she is good,  not because  her opposition is incompetent. Something that really strikes a chord with me, because while I really am not a sports/ competitive type of person, life has challenges that should be won because of competence, tenacity and actual caliber, not pure dumb luck. While Clive Reader (Rupert Penry-Jones, excellently cast and played) is self aggrandizing enough to warm up to prosecuting as that is how you get the bad guys and make a difference in society, Martha is determinedly a defense lawyer fighting for every individual’s right. Her delivery of the lines, as she advises a young brown girl to not feel guilty for wanting more from her life, than what her family thinks she should have and that “guilt takes away your life”  made me rethink my own guilt-prone existence. She doesn’t go on lecturing her clients on how to live their lives or anything, but she will hold the hand of the ones who need that. Most importantly, no one scares her, no one can puncture her integrity because she may not always get things right, but she always does things with the right motivation of seeing justice done. Not judgement, but justice. I wish I was her, not because of her successful career, but her success in holding on to her inner compass in what is clearly the murkiest or murky landscapes in criminal defense. For her strength of character she will eternally remain my most favorite lawyer on television. She should have been Dr. Who (just sayin..). Maxine Peake, Peter Moffat take a low bow and please come back onscreen together soon.

As for Mrs Louisa Durrell, a widow in the 1930s, taking off with four children to an unknown island of Greece with no money or paying skill (for the time). Keeley Hawes(I have adored her since her line of duty appearance) does an impeccable rendition of a woman with a strong will, soft core and steel grit.  Being just a mother to four children is a monumental task. But the strength of this show is the treatment of Mrs Durrell’s love affairs. Love affairs of the middle-aged often get scoffed as midlife crisis and unless they are super rich, high society affairs related to some power struggle, romance for the middle-aged seems to be rarely depicted and even more rarely done right. Some movies I am sure have glamorous older people coming together, but glamorous is the operative word here. In the Durrells in Corfu (based on a book by one actual Durrell), Louisa is widowed, almost penniless since she bought a dilapidated house in the island coming up with new ways to make a living and feed her four children. Yet, her life has romance blooming. And why not? Sure, young lovers with star-crossed eyes and their entire lives ahead of them to be in love (which, they may or much more likely not, remain in) are who have claimed love for eternity. But, I would say the older romances are the ones that would endure. For IF, by a certain age, you are self-aware, you know what you can offer and what you want offered. Reality has hit, more than once and since you are not dead, you know how precious life actually is. You have tried different lives, with different motives. Made some people happy, others mad, and realized it matters only so much if you are unhappy yourself. So, in short, I am glad they show her desirable and desiring of love as a widow weaving her way in the practicalities of life because young girls with no knowledge of the world are, well, boring. Not to mention their sense of humor is limited, superfluous and often, yes, boring. Louisa is funny because humor is what has seen her through life’s worst. And that is the time for humor in our lives. Adulthood. As is the time for love, and of course, I didn’t come up with that!

These two women from two different worlds with different tales that made me admire them, and all real women who are anything like them. That is feminism people, being a fighter, being strong and being prepared to be soft. Looking for equal partners. Having dreams then giving them life. Facing-off everyone who says you cannot and being prepared to handle the consequences, because hey, the most difficult thing in this world you can be is yourself, when you are a woman. Now you know. oh yes, before I forget #MeToo.






Las Vegas downtown in black and white

These are photos from two years ago. I just found them today and as it has often (if not always) happened, I like them more now than I did when I saw them soon after our trip. This is not the Vegas strip, this is the made-over downtown, and with its lights and whole walls of Times Squaresque commercials.. seemed quite lively. I had wanted to do a ‘series’ called gamblers of Vegas.. maybe I will find the photos meant for that series another day. Until then.. photos from my iPhone.

Casino downtown Vegas
A show
Live art




night surreal-2 (1)
This is a marsh in Belize where the endangered Morelet’s crocodile lives. It was one of the most surreal experiences in my life to get on an airboat at night and rush through these submerged trees as we looked for a crocodile…

There are so many times I feel that I am stagnating. In a limbo. Getting nowhere, doing nothing valuable. Then I blame many things that have caused me to get into this rut, family expectations, my being a perfectionist by nature, living in a small town with few resources and close minded people.

Today, again, my mom reminded me how lucky we have been. We have not had the large, looming issues in my family that many families, including my family-in-law, face for years. Long sickness, financial crises. In fact, we are blessed with being competent at our jobs which we were mostly allowed to choose (not so much for my mom in the beginning, but now she only does social work she likes). These jobs at least have had the potential to impact or directly impacted humans (my dad is a consultant now and before retirement was involved in the construction of many hydroelectric power projects). Our health concerns have been many, but almost always minor and manageable. That will change I am sure, but what we still have is priceless!

So, out of nowhere an image of  a stream came into my mind. The stream of my life, I suppose. As a child I hurtled past obstacles to land with bubbles and effervescence back into one wholesome life path. Now, many rocks and driftwood have split my life into streams as a way of getting through, when it was no longer possible to pass full strength. Most of the threads on the surface are going strong, even if they are no longer together. I have expressed my sadness about that before in this blog. But today I want to celebrate it, to all these tiny streams of my life making their own connections, taking me on different paths at the same time, I say: thank you. If I am meant to live many ways at the same time, I shouldn’t be sad that some of these streams are bound to run dry. Maybe one will meet other streams like mine, or one day, all of mine will find a connection and then we will run along together. All my life I have been waiting for a mighty current to take me where I am meant to be and I know that I will make my own. Perhaps the only way there is to be in many tiny streams now.

Streams of dreams, they are. So I will garden, I will make new friends, worry about my beloved family members, I will do my job, I will paint, I will dance, I will watch nature, I will cook and I will dream. None of these streams really know the others, I am in all of them in different ways; none have turned into the current yet, but maybe there is still time. Otherwise, to have so much is a dream come true in itself.

Thanks mom. I honestly only just remembered that Mother’s day is around the corner. Cheers!

Migrating birds

On the oak tree out front..

Male yellow rumped warbler bringing delight to my days..

male yellow-rumped-side face-wmyellow rumped male-wm

How to ‘get’ a double-striped thick-knee in Trinidad

purple honecreeper fluffed-wm

How to see/spot/ get the double-striped thick-knee in Trinidad? (ok, to end the suspense: it is a rare bird in TT, so please continue reading for content, and sorry the photo is down below, thanks much,  kisses…)

Well, of course you don’t go looking for it! That’s rule number one. For every thing. The day you go looking for something Murphy’s law takes over and you are done, it won’t even be in the last place you look for it, because hey, Murphy was an optimist who thought his rules could prepare people like me for life.. That’s working out great, isn’t it? Remember when I went looking for a purpose in life and ended up even more confused but now with an albatross Ph.D.? turns out great, in the end I am told…

So, don’t go looking for it and find yourself the best guide you did not know you could get. In our case it was the dapper Dave. Dave Ramlal, if you are familiar with Trinidad birding at all in the past 30 yrs, you may have heard of him. If you want to be familiar with the above, you should go looking for him!  If you do find him, then maybe you deserved him and its a privilege worth earning.

I have written at length of our previous trip to Trinidad and Tobago, exactly 5 yrs (now 5.5) ago where I met my friends Peggy and Kris for the first time. In Peggy I found the closest I had ever got to a soul-mate, which to me is simply someone who understood me naturally, without knowing me much. It seems now, I give out such strong signals when in Trinidad, that anyone who can pick up the frequency, does so. I must be under serious cover every where else, or simply lucky in Trinidad.

Beginning of 2017 Peggy wanted to go back to Trinidad before the likely changing of her chemo to a more aggressive regime. I was planning to go for a sabbatical after June last year, so we decided that this time, again, we would be in Trini around fourth of July. The six of us, with Kris, Ash, Peg, Lee and us made our own group and Caligo Ventures (having changed hands since the last time, but still providing the only access to Asa Wright Nature Center from the US) set our dates and itinerary. This time we would try to look for the endangered Trinidad Piping Guan (Pawi), for which we would go till Grand Riviere up north, the known range of Pawi.

Peggy, lee and I
Left to right: Peggy, Lee and I

The first night and day after reaching Trinidad we stayed at the Pax guesthouse, run by a Benedictine monastery where we joined Peggy and Lee who had found the place referred to in a travel book to Trinidad. A full description and review of the place may be added to a post I write about where NOT to stay if options are available, beginning with overpriced food and ending with a place needing a serious make-over. I felt bad for the staff who tried to be polite but seemed really at the end of their tether by (likely) being underpaid and having to serve ONE avocado (and look here, they have at least one giant avocado tree and avocadoes are literally dropping off trees in Trinidad, literally used in its correct figurative form here) to FOUR guests and as Peggy later told us Jell-o for dessert after dinner. We did spend a very pleasant day with our first taxi driver: Roberto going to visit  hanuman temple built and visited by people of Indian origin and had Trinidadian dal puri with shrimp, mango and veggies at a place he took us. Roberto introduced me to the two beers of Trinidad: Carib and Stag ( I did not drink beer when I went there the first time) and is definitely a cabby I would recommend, but then, apparently they are all awesome in Trinidad!

Dave came to pick us up on our second morning and I was of course the last one out as everyone appeared to be waiting for me. He said, ‘you must be Ishita.’ And I thought, hmm, where have I seen this guy before while being embarrassed at having kept him waiting. By the time were all in his van I remembered where, some of his photos were on Caligo venture’s facebook page. And I don’t have a photographic memory for nothin’ ! He said we were free to ask him as many questions as we liked and i was sitting in what would be my favorite seat for the next four days: right behind him, I told him very truly, that he didn’t know what he had gotten himself into. He laughed.  I don’t look as imposing as I like to think I guess. Dave is lean, has short cropped hair and usually wears a hip neck piece and long sleeves, his walk as sure footed as it is slick. A small part of my brain hoped I had a walk like that, as the main part of my brain was glad I wasn’t the only one abjectly favored by mosquitoes.

We were greeted by Kris and Ashley in the famous verandah of Asa Wright after checking out our room w/ queen bed (my special request made on behalf of my husband who was falling off the twin bed we had last time). Happily reunited I was of course constantly chirping. I think people, including Kris and Ashley think I am an extrovert. To say that is  far from the truth is an understatement.  Anyway. It is just that in the right company  I just happen to chirp a lot. The center celebrated its 50th anniversary last year and has upgraded in every possible way since I last saw it. The center guides are just a pleasure to talk to, they love their jobs and some of them travel for hours daily to get to their job. The food was fantastic and I must say I really like the new chef, because I do not recall that I liked the food that much 5 yrs ago.

It did rain on any plans on the first day, however, it was the ONLY plan (and not in the formal itinerary I might add) that suffered from the rains. Otherwise, we made good on every trip that had been planned.The rain brought my dancing jacobins out in tens as they drank in the ran and i soaked in their joy. The young, and the males especially take special delight in preening and spreading their wings and tail feathers to get the most of the rain. It is a sight I haven’t forgotten in five years, and now cannot get back to, soon enough. I did notice and later Dave confirmed this, that the number of Jacobins in the feeders was way more in proportion to the copper-rumped who, five years ago, were the feisty little hummers that fought off every other hummer that wanted a little drink. By the time we were leaving, I did see an increased effort by the copper-rumped to make a come-back. I already have way too many photos of those two hummers on this blog, so I will refrain to post more.

golden-olive woodpecker-2-wm
Golden-olive woodpecker

I should mention that a tropical storm Bret had hit Trinidad about two weeks before our planned arrival and while most of the places we visited showed no signs of being hit, there was some damage by trees falling over and mud slides in Blanchiseusse.

Female barred antshrike-wm
Female barred antshrike
female purple honeycreeper good-wm
Female purple honeycreeper

On the discovery trail, the main trail at AWNC to or at which all other trail lead, we started off with seeing the Trinidad mot-mot, two of them but in deep shadow, followed by both male and female great antshrike that D called out. Their call is like a ping pong ball bouncing off after being dropped. Our treat for this hike were two male bearded bellbirds calling at each other and being close enough that we saw them clearly. I think it was a great show that lasted more than 5-6 minutes as one of them actually moved closer still that I got a good video of both of its calls: boink…. boink… boink (guttural), the call comes from deep inside that crow sized bird, and the quicker boinks that seem to indicate that the bird needs to stop to rev up its chords for the next round. These birds don’t call during or close to rain. Their beards look like black worms wiggling from the lower jaw, and should have inspired beards in pirates of the caribbean (but we don’t need another movie for that, no!).

Bearded bell-bird-closer-calling-wm
Bearded bell-bird
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Blue-headed parrots

After we got back it did begin to pour and we felt sorry for the group of school kids who had left to take a walk down the trail right after us! What goes around….

That evening we headed for the area inside Agricultural research center in Arima for some night birding. We or rather D was hoping for some macaws (some green variety) but as usual they didn’t want to be seen by me (or more likely my husband who literally is dying to see some in the wild). The Moriche oriole, a very rare and possibly endangered bird is also seen there and also eluded us that night. We did see the little cuckoo, in the shadows but still clearly. After a great dinner, in light drizzle, I found out how to differentiate nightjars from paraques at night and I can tell you they are much easier to differentiate at night that day, unless they fly around you slowly! No, I am not telling you how here, ask D, it is something to do with their eyes.We saw and heard a southern lapwing as it bothered a common potoo.

However, D had not given up on the Moriche oriole and that is how to get the double-striped thick-knee.

Palm tanager and tobacco fruit-wm
Palm tanager eating wild tobacco

But before that, we spent an entire day at Blanchiseusse, up the mountain. Seeing the grayish saltator, blue headed parrots and the trinidad euphonia. Also, not a big deal but both the morphs of ferruginous pygmy owl (grey and rufus). One of them posed for photos wonderfully and D called him out. They have a pattern on the back of their heads that looks like they have a pair of eyes there! So the birds of the nests these guys attack are never sure where it is looking, because otherwise this little guy looks like a little doll. I also saw a clove tree with fruit for the first time on that day. It was a long and tiring day for most and we headed back ready for dinner and bed.

ferruginous pygmy owl-wm

Next morning, while not as bright or early as some people, I was up looking for the tufted coquette in the vervines by our room and I think it was the day I took a few photos. Although, THAT little guy is far from being tamed and I assure you, I accept that challenge with pleasure. I will have a photo of him I am proud of one day. This was our last day at the center and we had it packed. With the trip to the oil bird cave, one of the more difficult ones led by a center guide. The hike down went pretty smoothly and wrapped in a tent made of a giant leaf, we saw the exceeding cute tent-making bat. It even looked a little greenish itself! The oil birds screamed their eerie call as we saw a couple pretty close to the entrance of their cave here, apparently there are birds there that travel to Venezuela (another known oilbird haunt) and come back here. They are all of course tagged and known. On the way back, the rain gods finally lost patience and we came back dripping wet. Not that I cared.

oil bird-2-wm
Oil bird with regurgitated palm fruit


Lester and Dave
Lester(left) and Dave(right): Our Trinidad guides of Indian origin, carried with pride and Caribbean flair

Last evening was our Caroni Swamp trip, to see Peggy’s favorite, Trinidad’s national bird: the scarlet ibis. And again, might I add, not a single photo I am proud of. We met Lester, who I am sure was our boat guide last time we went too. In the intervening years, his dad: Winston Nannan was awarded the President’s medal for his huge contribution in the conservation of the habitat of the scarlet ibis. The swamp will be named after him, even though we did not have the good fortune of meeting him as he has passed. Nevertheless, guides are awesome like that, and Lester is quite funny too. That day the rain gods (and possibly every other god that I have ever prayed to) was smiling at me and rewarded me with a full length rainbow in all its glory.  There was some friction in the group for silly reasons I am choosing not to get into at this point, including inviting people we had just met at the center to join our group. I know I am mean, but scarlet ibises were practically the reason we were back, and my socializing-to-new-people mode had been turned off since I met D, since I wasn’t expecting to be needing it again in the tour. I rarely, as rare as the bird we saw next, chat for the heck of it. To me the only polite thing to do is NOT pretend that I am interested when I am not.  Anyway, I am weird I know. Another long day came to an end, I thought it had gone great (but it turns out, not everyone did!). But, the rainbow, I am sure had no complaints!

Scarlet ibis-v formation
Scarlet Ibises

Rainbow and binos

Next day was our long ish road trip to Grand Riviere where the pawi awaited our arrival with bated wattles. I was supposed to sit next to D! Well, I had called shotgun for this particular drive, the day we were on Blanchiseusse and Kris hadn’t been there, as she hadn’t been on some of our hikes or trips, and ok, I am such a baby. I had got the front seat for Caroni, even if that had been the trade off for letting the strangers join our group. I clearly had issues with letting some things go….

The whole list of over 120 birds we saw is beyond the scope of this post, we did see the tropical parula and bay-headed tanagers (life birds for me) among many  others..

So, on the way back we stopped at the agricultural center in Arima looking for the oriole. I even saw it fly across at about 6 ft above the ground. No one else did, even if we waited quite some time. I think Ashley had wanted to see it and told D, it hadn’t been me who had requested the stop, but I am so glad we did. Because finally, we got what I had hoped we would make in the Caroni marsh: a truly special sighting we make as a group. On our way out, remember I am sitting right behind D and at this point not in the best of spirits, but still with eyes open, and suddenly while taking the turn towards the exit he stops the van midway. And says in cheerful (ok, he always sounds cheerful, I would say he had a laughing talk: an undercurrent of a good laugh as he talks that seems to be some type of a Caribbean male phenotype, and is expressed beautifully in D) amazement (he was never amazed before): “Is that a double stripe(d) thick-knee?” And I am like ‘what, where, is that a bird?’ Right in front in the little line of wild grass. A large-eyed, long legged, superbly camouflaged bird. Not been reported in Trinidad in 10 years. And before that reported only 5 times. A double striped thick-knee. A rare vagrant. Making us some kind of a big deal.

When I said good bye to Dave at Mt. Plaisir, I hoped it was not forever.

Double-striped thick-knee-wm
Double striped thick-knee: the elusive and gorgeous bird of our trip!

The rest of the trip is kind of a blur, though it shouldn’t be. Our rooms were wonderful, with AC and lovely views. The Pawis were kind and showed up and we went back to their haunt on two days, we also saw some forest birds with Nicholas.  A truly amazing experience of watching a leather-back lay eggs, this time (unlike the last) she laid fully formed, golf-ball sized eggs. That are springy! We saw the vultures lying in wait for the little baby turtles that emerge, yet another predator.

Trinidadian piping guan- close-wm


I am compelled to mention here that we saw the hotel, the supposed eco-lodge: Mt. Plaisir, harboring dogs that dig and eat the eggs. I am sorry, if you are selling yourself as an eco-lodge, where the ‘eco’ part is the eggs being laid on the beach you are situated on: the dogs that are fed by the employees of the lodge need to be secured for three months. It shouldn’t be that hard, these are not natural predators. The hotel employees are lovely people, I know  feeding those almost stray dogs is kindness. But some objectivity and a few ropes or some other means of containment is needed. I saw the dogs eating the eggs and no matter how much Pierro (the owner of Mt. Plaisir) denies it, it happens. The locals of this beautiful town, volunteer their nights to look out for the leatherbacks, tag them and maintain some numbers etc. They love these animals and I envy their involvement in something as beautiful as that. Not that anyone is stopping me. I know. All of us did not get to see the nest building and egg laying of these turtles but we all saw the many babies saved and kept away from the vultures by human intervention by another David. Nicholas sold us some chocolate he makes from local cacao, that was wonderful.

I would be remiss in not mentioning our final driver in TT: Anthony who drove us back from Grand Riviere to the airport. I did sit in the front that day, I suppose no one else had the energy to engage in a conversation. But engage I did and he was wonderful. Talked about Trinidad in real terms, just the way I would want to talk about India to someone I trust will not get the wrong impression just because my country has some issues. It is hard for some people to accept the culture in other places but thankfully I know better. I wish him as a driver to anyone who understands his openness and warmth without judging. He went out of his way to take us on our final TT outing: we ate the local street special : doubles, two puris with chickpeas in a spicy sauce, from his favorite shack (they are all different, we have been told) and he even paid for ours!

Any country that has people like the ones I met there, has been doing things right for a LOONG time. Trust me, I am a philosopher. Trinidad. Who knew that my heart could belong in a place so well off my sphere till the time I was 30. And who knew that at 35 (at the time) I could still fall in love. Until next time…