A Turtle Story, on the World Environment Day

A Turtle Story, on the World Environment Day

Ever since I came to the Andaman Islands, I wanted to see the turtles. They told me those parts of the islands were frequented by turtles- nearly half a dozen different species of them. That was an exciting piece of information and I was eagerly wandering along the serene seashores of Middle Andaman Isles for sighting the big daddy of the tortoises.

But unfortunately for me, no turtles came on my way during the numerous rounds I undertook along the seashores. I began to consider the turtle story only as a myth. Then one day I could trace a few tracks the turtles left on the beach sand, like the trails of truck tyres, running along the wet sand and disappearing in the wavy sea. They told me the turtles came to the sea shores during night, dug a pit and laid eggs there and would fill in the pit and went back to sea. It rekindled my spirits and I continued the search.

One summer evening, I was taking an evening walk along a long and beautiful beach, some two miles away from the Vidyalaya campus. There were no tourists on the beach. Some boys ran along and played on the golden beach sand. There was a hamlet of Telugu fishermen by the beach. Some of the fishing boats were pulled ashore and parked on the strand. I could see a group of boys standing crowded at a spot. There was some excitement in the air, some shouting and commotion. I made my way through the crowd.

What I saw on the sand was a curious sight. The boys were looking intently on a spot of loose, rumpled sand. Then, the sand began to bulge up gently. Up came a tiny head. Then, a pair of limbs. Further, the shelly body. It was a baby turtle. Just coming out from hatch! As I looked on, more and more turtle cubs kept on coming up, struggling their way up through the sand. That was a hatch of turtles coming out of their eggs. It was a marvelous sight! Dozens of turtle cubs, only as big as the palm of a boy, emerging out of the sand. The boys carried them to the wet strand, close to the waves. The turtle cubs crawled towards the water and disappeared in the tides. It looked like the Hindu rituals, where they offer things to the sea.

The boys told me that it was a lucky batch of turtle cubs.

Often, they are spotted by stray dogs or eagles when they come out, and very few of them manage to reach their home, the sea. But luckily for these cubs, none of the boys were wicked. They did not play the cruel games that the children generally play with hapless animals. The boys were fishermen’s children and most of them were illiterate. But they took enormous pleasure and pride in saving a hatch of turtles from the predators and reaching them safely to the sea.

On the World Environment Day, the tiny turtles come to my mind and the jubilant faces of the boys- away, along the shores of Andaman. If the unlettered children of the fisher folk could play their part in safeguarding our endangered amphibians, how much more could each one of us do to save this ailing planet !?

On 5 June 2007

Jaison Jose



            As another academic year has come to a close, with the results eagerly awaited, the focus is again on pass percentages. The onus is on the English teachers and Maths teachers, as they become the target of ire of their colleagues and PTA members. The threat of a dip in pass percentage due to the failure in a single subject make them most vulnerable. All the other subjects can be attempted in the mother tongue and do not grossly threaten the respective teachers. Of the vulnerable pall bearing two, the teacher of Mathematics steers through with some poise, as Mathematics is universally acknowledged to be a really ‘tough’ subject. Now, it is up on the hapless English teacher to bear the brunt of the situation.

            What any English teacher longs to do, is to take the class through creative sessions of group work, role plays, debates, lively discussions and guided compositions, inculcating a love of the language and inspiring them to delve further into the depths on their own. Notwithstanding the constraints of a good library, how gladly one would have initiated them into the pleasures of reading!

But, what one aspires to do and what one has to do, are quite different things altogether. “The cream of the group will take care of themselves. Concentrate on the single digit scorers” is always the refrain. Time and again, the English teacher is reminded of the loss of full A+ or Cent percent result as some students fail to clear a single subject, which is inevitably English.

As the pressure mounts, one is forced to succumb and suspend the fruitful learner centred activities towards the end, if not the middle of the year. Then ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ become tasks to be done with. The desperate, cowardly souls then resort to providing readymade answers. Cutting down on lunch hours they take extra classes to make those on the brim, learn by rote, certain all-purpose paragraphs which could be transformed into an editorial, letter, essay or speech by just altering the beginning and end, thereby defeating the raison d’etre of the revised learner centred activity based curriculum.

When the teachers in the lower classes have been following the same survival tactics as well, the ‘all pass generation’ which comes up the educational rung, do not some how seem to write ‘English’, but a strange language sans spellings, punctuation or grammar. Some conscientious reformers seek to make repairs only to be intercepted on the road and told “The girl is spending all her time on spellings and meanings. Why don’t you teach her something from an examination point of view?” The paranoia, over pass percentages, is so gripping that the zealous crusaders, relentlessly trying to preserve the spirit of the new curriculum, end up getting taunted even by their colleagues. It is a matter of regret that the shadows and ghosts of the old memory-based system still lurk in the classrooms.

A Sikkimese Lesson – on the World Environment Day – Jaison Jose (GHSS, Chembuchira)

That was a morning in summer. The year was 2003. I was sitting in a taxicab. Sitting next to me was Liji, my wife and we were heading for Natu La Pass across our Chinese border, in Sikkim. We left Gangtok early in the morning. We were at an elevation of over five thousand feet above sea level and we had to scale another two thousand feet before we reached Natu La.

Gangtok is a sleepy hill station on the foothills of the Himalayas. It is also the capital of Sikkim, the small state with the smallest population in the country. Gangtok is a regular hill station. But it is less crowded than the other hill stations-say Simla, Darjileeng or Ooty. Plus it is much cleaner than the other hill stations. People do not stuff their drains with polythene waste. Plastic is strictly banned here. But lodging could be really costly in Gangtok. We had to satisfy ourselves with a modest room in a regular lodge down town. The lodge owner, a Malayali with a thick moustache and grave smile was rather liberal in helping us –the newly wed Malayali couple. It was he who arranged a taxi for us when we wanted to have a sight seeing trip. He had assured us that Madhav, the Nepali cab driver could be really handy.

The morning was pleasant and we were climbing steadily up. Madhav threw out regular information to us as an accomplished guide. He spoke chaste Hindi. We noticed military camps almost at regular intervals on our way up- a necessary preparedness in a disputed territory by our Chinese boarder. The hills on either side of the road had beautiful mountain flora. As our climb progressed the hills on either side gradually began to be treeless hills. But they were fabulously beautiful. Numerous herbs and creepers grew on the treeless hillocks. They bore flowers- and such flowers!! The small flowers growing in clusters looked angelically beautiful. As we climbed up and up, the flowering herbs began to appear in richer profusion on the rocky hills.

We stopped on the way at Tsongo, a crystal clear lake in the laps of mighty mountains. Madhav tells us that the lake goes frozen in winter. One can walk along the expanse of the lake! Local tribes will give you a ride on a yak on the banks of the lake. Yak is the Himalayan bull with very thick and very long fur. I did not climb on a yak, but allowed my wife to have a ride. It was nicer watching her clinging to the neck of the yak- a female Yam dharma going to rope in a soul!!

* * * * * * *

We were on our way back. Our cab was climbing down the flower-clad hillocks. I asked Madhav to stop the car for a moment. We wanted to have a closer look at those lovely flowers. We wanted to touch them, feel their heavenly smoothness inside our hands….

It was nearly the evening and the sky was slowly changing colours. The flowers felt extremely smooth in our hands.

“Nahim! Nahim!

Math keejiye, Mem Saab!”

I turned back. Liji was about pull out one of those flowering herbs from the rocks. Madhav came running to us. Liji was obviously shocked at the sharp warning from Madhav. But she explained that she wanted to have one of the plants taken down to our home in Kerala. She would plant it there.

“Nahim, Mem Saab!” Madhav refused,” These plants and flowers are not to be plucked.”

‘But it is only a single plant, that is to be planted there in Kerala’, Liji explained in the best possible Hindi that she could speak.

“Dekhiye Mem Saab, “ Madhav explained, “we get thousands of tourists visiting our Sikkim every year. If everybody plucks just one plant, it won’t take much time for all our rocks to become bare and barren. All the beauty will disappear…. And what is Sikkim without her beauty?!’

We did not bring that flowering herb to our home for planting. But we planted something more attractive than that mountain plant deep in our souls that summer. We learned something as tall as the Himalayan foothills.

The great lessons in Environmental Sciences learned from a cab driver.

Protection of nature and natural resources should come from the common man. Our loud academic and intellectual exercises won’t do. Real conservation begins in the streets and waysides, not in air-conditioned seminar halls. 

Dear friend, let me share my Sikkimese lesson with you on the eve of the World Environment Day falling on 5 June .

Love, and best wishes to mother Earth!