Posts Tagged ‘Rudyard Kipling’

What should we do to this Japanese immigrant?

29 October 2012

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: There is an ongoing tussle between the forest department of Karnataka and wildlife enthusiasts on one side and the breeders, sellers and users on the other side over which side of the conservation fence the Japanese Quail stands.

While the former group says that this bird is protected under the Wildlife Act, the latter argue that it is not at all a native species, having been imported into the country and being bred purely as a table bird.

It is now becoming quite popular as a tasty treat in most restaurants across the country, thanks to the promotion of its breeding on a commercial scale in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It all started a few years ago when quail breeding was promoted in Kerala with the krishi vigyan kendra, Kannur, under the Kerala agricultural University, encouraging it as a part of its creative extension scheme.

The Japanese quail, Coturnix japonica, also known as coturnix quail or Pharaoh’s Quail, is a species of old world quail found in East Asia.

They are a migratory species, breeding in Manchuria, Southeastern Siberia, Northern Japan, and the Korean Peninsula, and wintering in the south of Japan and southern China. They dwell in grasslands and cultivated fields and the species is very abundant across most of its range.

Currently, it is being bred as a table bird in many European and South East Asian countries and also in the US.

The species, which is being reared for its meat and eggs, is seen as a good “dual-purpose bird”. Very interestingly, Japanese quail eggs have orbited the earth in several Soviet and Russian spacecraft, including the Bion 5 satellite and the Salyut 6 and Mir space stations to test the viability of birds’ eggs in space conditions.

In March 1990, quail eggs on Mir were successfully incubated and hatched.

The present controversy in our country stems from the fact that many agencies both government and private, are of the mistaken impression that this bird is the same as the Indian Partridge, which is commonly called ‘Teetar‘ and which is protected under schedule IV of the Indian Wildlife Act (1972).

A few self-educated experts have also quoted Salim Ali, the famous ornithologist while claiming that the Japanese Quail is a wild Indian bird.

But this is not true as the wild Indian Partridge, which this bird resembles quite closely, is the Grey Francolin (formerly also called the Grey Partridge), Francolinus pondicerianus, a larger-sized species found in the plains and drier parts of South Asia.

They are found in open cultivated lands as well as scrub forest and their local name of teetar is based on their calls, a loud and repeated Ka-tee-tar…tee-tar, which is produced by one or more birds. The term Teetar can also refer to many other partridges and quails of varying sizes found in the wild. But each one of them is of a sub- species distinctly different from the Japanese Quail.

Incidentally they all run very swiftly and gracefully and they actually seem to glide rather than run, and folklore says that the native Indian lover can pay no higher compliment to his mistress than to liken her gait to that of the Partridge! This is an observation about which too there is a small controversy because it is attributed to both A. O. Hume and John Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard Kipling.

In poetry, too, the partridge is associated with the moon, and, like the lotus, it is supposed to be perpetually longing for it, while one member of the group, the Chakore is even said to eat fire.

Now my interest in this whole dispute about whether it is legal or not to eat this farm-raised bird is not because I relish it but because in our confusion, we may be endangering many of our forest dwelling species.

I know of many instances where many trucks transporting these birds from farms in Kerala and Tamil Nadu to marketing outlets in Karnataka have been intercepted by our officials and the birds simply released into the forests, citing the Wildlife Act.

Now, while this may look like a very merciful and wildlife friendly act to many, it is in fact a very thoughtless and dangerous thing to do. The farm bred birds are capable of harbouring and transmitting some very deadly viral diseases to our wild species which can quickly wipe them out for good.

In a similar scenario in the sixties, the Rinderpest or Cattle Plague infection that was picked up from domestic cattle grazing in and around Bandipur almost wiped out the entire Bison population there which did not have any native immunity against it.

It took a full three decades for the Bison to make a comeback there.

Such an ecological disaster should not be allowed to occur while we stand and argue to decide on which side of the Indian Wildlife Act the Japanese immigrant should stand.

(K. Javed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where a longer version of this piece originally appeared)

Before the Slumdogs, the Mahoutboy Millionaire

26 February 2009


In the understandable hoo-ha over Danny Boyle‘s Slumdog Millionaire, it is easy to forget that there were others before the kids of Dharavi who set hearts aflame in Hollywood.

Krishna Vattam, the longetime Deccan Herald correspondent in Mysore, remembers one of them from our very soil, who sailed from the foothills of Chamundi to Beverly Hills.



As I was reading about the street children in Bombay, who were cast in leading roles in Slumdog Millionaire, I went down memory lane, recalling a rags-to-riches true story way back in the 1930s, of a Mysore mahout boy set in reel life from real life.

The old residents of Mysore will recall an incident, which, thanks to a strange stroke of fate, transformed the life of this 11-year-old boy who became India’s only international star at that time.

Britain’s reputed documentary maker Robert Flaherty with his wife Frances, were in Mysore with a film team, wanting to do a feature film based on Toomai of the Elephants—a story by Rudyard Kipling.

They were keen on choosing a ‘native’ boy for the lead role of Elephant Boy.

While walking around what was then a small town, the Flaherty couple, saw some children playing football, and others quarrelling among themselves in a friendly manner.

One afternoon they stepped into the Palace elephants’ stable, where elephants were being maintained by the Palace. It was lunch time and the senior mahouts were away, leaving the young boy in charge of the stable.

The little boy was wearing only a lungi and around his head a white turban was wrapped.

On seeing the white skinned visitors, he excitedly performed acrobatic stunts while handling and fondling the gentle giants with much ease. His manner charmed and captivated the Fleherty couple, and they felt that their search was over.

They were convinced that this was the boy they were looking for.

Writing about the couple’s encounter with this lad, Robert’s biographer Paul Roather, recalled:

My most treasured memory of this day is of Sabu. He made his appearance slowly astride on an elephant, and there they stood in the middle of the very large compound for the world to see. The manner in which he handled the ponderous, lumbering elephant was enough to stir one’s confidence and trust in him.

“I have found a gold mine,” wired Flaherty to Alexander Korda, the producer of the Elephant Boy, who was in London.

A large part of the film was shot in 1935 and 1936 in the jungles around Mysore, with which Sabu was familiar.

Since there was a delay in the completion of the production of the film, the team was asked to go over to Britain and the rest of the film was shot in the Denham studio in London. The Elephant Boy was a box office hit and the performance of Sabu was universally praised and Sabu  became an instant star.

The New York Times review recorded:

Sabu, the Indian boy is a sunny faced, manly little youngster. His naturalness beneath the camera’s scrutiny should bring blushes to the faces of precocious wonder children of Hollywood.

Born in Karapura, the famous site of the khedda of yesteryear in Heggadadevanakote taluk of Mysore district, on 24 January 1924, Sabu was an illiterate boy, who lost his mother when he was in the cradle and his mahout father when he was just seven years old.

He was the youngest stable boy in the Maharaja’s ward.

The Elephant Boy was a big box office hit and Korda signed him up with a long-term contract. Here was an Indian juvenile star, who had earlier not travelled beyond Mysore.From then on, Sabu became the ward of the British government and was given an excellent schooling. With this grooming, Sabu learnt perfect English, which gave him the added confidence to interact with other celebrities in both Britain and America.

His third film The Thief of Baghdad was a smash hit.

When the Kordas moved to America, Sabu also joined them and became an American citizen in 1944 and embraced the Episcopalian faith.

When Hollywood super stars like Gary Cooper and Ronald Reagan stepped out of the studio to fight against the Nazis in World War II, Sabu also joined them as a gunner and was honoured for his courage and valour. He married an actress named Marilyn Cooper and had two children—Paul Sabu, who established a Rock band unit while Paul’s sister, Jasmine, owned a horse farm in California.

Sabu died young, at only 39, after a heart attack and his body was interred in the famous Forest Lawn Cemetery  among other film personalities. He had achieved name and fame and was a celebrity in his own right.

Sabu returned to his home town, Mysore, in 1952 to shoot a film and this former mahout boy from the Palace elephant stable was the guest of the Maharaja Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar.

His memory is kept alive, thanks to the occasional screening of the 28 films, in which he acted in, especially The Elephant Boy, and other hits like The Thief of Baghdad (1940), Jungle Book (1942), Arabian Nights (1942).

This article originally appeared in Deccan Herald, and is reproduced here with the kind courtesy of the author

Author photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Sabu photographs: courtesy Film Reference, Movie Diva,,, geocities, Flickr (some frames digitally altered)

Photo mosaic: kind courtesy Ashish Bagchi