14-20 Dec 2010
small world
Birth Control
Bengal to Put Elephants on the Pill

The number of elephants in north Bengal has touched 500 according to an ongoing survey; a three-fold jump from 150 five years ago. Since such a rapid rise means more man-animal conflicts, the state now wants to contain their population. Among measures being considered is the rather unusual step of giving birth control pills to wild female elephants. 

Administering contraceptive pills is foremost among the “urgent  steps” the state has asked the Union Government to take. How the state proposes to feed the pills in the wild, however, is a mystery. While relations between Kolkata and Delhi have never been cosy, in this matter it has full faith that the Centre will think of something. “We have to find a way to control the population growth of elephants. How it can be done is something the Union Government will have to decide. Giving contraceptive pills is just an idea at this stage,” says Ananta Ray, forest minister. “Maybe, during the mating season, we can mix the pills with salt that our forest staff daily put in the salt pits.” He has no idea if the pills could harm male, adolescent and infant pachyderms who also lick the salt at these pits.

If the state government’s idea seems strange, equally so are some advocated by conservationists. Renowned elephant expert Dhritiman Lahiri Choudhuri feels the ban on sending elephants abroad should be lifted . Another expert feels wild elephants need to be captured, domesticated and trained for carrying out chores, especially heavy-duty ones like those at construction sites. Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh will have the final word on the pill and other such trumpeted ideas.

Take Two
Don’t Get It, Don’t Sweat
When you walk into an art show, you don’t have to feel what you think you must feel

There’s really no contract between an artist and his audience. The artist does his thing based on self-interest. If he has some talent and does not want to be a poor man, he will use it to do the kind of thing which evokes popular interest. Others will look at Picasso and try to shake a thing or two about perception and often die poor because no one understood a thing about it. Manmohan Desai was as much right in ensuring children get lost and found every time he made a movie as Adoor Gopalakrishnan is in making movies which are crossword puzzles. There is, however, a contract which the audience has with itself and that is to be honest to one’s own feeling about what there is before one’s eyes.

At one corner of a cavernous hall in Mehmoob Studios there is a cannon which shoots red pellets into a white background. This is part of artist Anish Kapoor’s show which is on till 16 December. According to the show’s curator, the red could be an allusion to blood. The roar of the cannon and the splotches that it makes could evoke violence. Then there are other installations, like steel mirrors in various forms, which distort reflection in myriad ways. This could unsettle the person who looks into it, distorting his reality.

All of which are valid interpretations put forth by someone who has organised the show, but the mystery begins when everyone who walks into Mehboob Studios sees exactly the same thing. Read reviews or articles on the show, and you would be struck with the similarity of comment.

Artists want to be understood, but they are also wary about explaining their art. During the press walk through the show, Kapoor too was reluctant to dwell on it. For good reason, because once he has finished his work, the artist’s inter-pretation is just one among the many. If what he thinks about his work becomes public, then everyone who walks in only sees that. Art must engage the viewer on his/her terms, not on the artist’s.

There is absolutely no guilt in saying that the steel mirrors in Mehboob Studios distort reality far less than what a maze of mirrors in a recreation park does. And distortion to distortion, that is a quantifiable statement to make. Or, that when a cannon shoots red pellets, I see nothing but a cannon shooting red pellets. It would be honest, and that is more aesthetic than parroting a line.

Landmark
Where Will the Dead Fish Be Sent?

A Tudor style home at 110, Longfellow Avenue, in Staten Island is on sale. It is not an ordinary address. It is the house used as the residence of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather. Many of the famous scenes from the film were shot here.

Edward Norton II, the owner of the eight-bedroom house, died this June at age 93. His son, Edward Norton III, has decided to put the place up for sale for $2.9 million.

Godfather cast member Gianni Russo, who plays Carlo Rizzi, Corleone’s back-stabbing son-in-law, grew up around the area and recommended the house to the Godfather producers. When the Paramount team went over to the Nortons and explained the reason for their visit, Edward Norton II was not impressed and shut the door. But his wife, Mary, was keen and called the Paramount peo­ple back. There are many who can afford to pay for the house. Just don’t say, “We’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.” The Nortons are tired of hearing it. But once the house is sold, where will Sollozzo send the dead fish to convey “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes”?

old boys
Botham, Chappell and the Gentleman’s Game

The most exciting battle in the Ashes took place in the Adelaide Oval car park. The two warring Ians, Chappell and Botham, nearly came to blows. Beefy, 55, was waiting for his car at the end of the fourth day’s play during the second Test. Chappelli, 67, needled the English allrounder, whom he has not spoken to since 1980.

According to Daily Mail, ‘Chappell muttered something highly provocative as he went past. A surprised Botham turned around to retort: ‘What did you say?’ And after Chappell made another incendiary remark, both of them dropped their bags and were at each other’s throats before being quickly separated.’

Chappell and Botham’s feud dates back to 1977, when the two fought at a bar in Melbourne. And they have been fighting happily ever after.

Alternative
If You Can’t Stop ’em, Tax ’em

Residents of the coal-rich Jamuria area in Bengal’s Burdwan district are one up on coal thieves. Tired of government inaction over their pleas to stop coal theft, the people started levying a ‘tax’ on every consignment of coal that’s illegally mined and transported from their area. People of at least 12 villages in the area have formed syndicates and set up check posts on roads leading away from their villages. The tax varies from Rs 50 for every bullock-cart load of coal to Rs 300 for every truckload. With an average of 100 bullock carts and 25 trucks passing through every village check post every day, the collections amount to a few lakh rupees every month. The money is distributed among the villagers, whose lifestyles, says a study by Burdwan University, have improved of late.

Ownership
Sun Squatting

A Spanish woman claims that she owns the sun. Angeles Duran, 49, a resident of the small town of Salvaterra do Mino in Spain, told the daily El Mundo that she had registered the star as her local property at a local public notary in September. She made this decision after reading about an American man who had registered himself as the owner of the moon. The notary’s document declares Angeles to be the ‘owner of the Sun, a star of spectral type G2, located in the centre of the solar system, located at an average distance from the Earth of about 149,600,000 kilometres.’ Angeles has created quite a legally sound case for herself by finding a loophole in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which is a list of principles governing the activities of states in the exploration and use of outer space. Angeles claims that though the treaty prevents governments from staking claim to celestial bodies, it does not apply to individuals. She is no longer content just owning the sun; she wants to slap a fee on anyone who uses it.