Sunday, June 11, 2006

Battle for Balcony

Twice in two months, my balcony has become the residence of a colony of bees. Being a Chenniite settled in bangalore, I have never encountered wild life even remotely! Bees cute as they might seem in cartoons, always terrorized me when I saw them on TV thanks to National Goegraphic and Discovery.Bees have some qualities that fascinate me while putting me ill at ease in theircontemplation. The reason being an essay that I read in my school english text bookon a bee encounter in Malaya forests. That was a terrifyig account (for me at that age) of a group of boys being chased by a swarm of bees when the bee hive is accidentally disturbed. With all the history of my fear to bees stated, you can imagine how I much I must have feared to see a bee hive in my favourite balcony. All my scientific curiosity and fascination to see from close something that I haven't seen before in my lifeevaporated before the fear of having seen a mighty army of bees buzzing with absolute impunity in my balcony. I felt like a weak zimbabwe cricket team facing the mighty Aussies. Pressing the panic button I quickly brought in the security guards of my apartment who employed age old technique of "firing up" the bee hive. They killed almost all the bees and spoiling the white ceiling of my balcony too in the process.In the aftermath i felt so bad of having lost my scientific and ecological temper in panic. To be fair to my self, I googled for pest control people and people from GandhiKrishi Vigyan Kendra(an organization that researches into Gandhian model of rural development which also has bee keeping as an occupation) and drew a blank in getting any positive response from them for help. PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) told me that bees are not "animals" they are interested in. Thereby resulting in a catastrophic (for the bees) artificial inferno at night that destroyed all of them.With bees all gone, I was still feeling so sorry for them and regretted of not having waited and searched enough. After a couple of months later, couple of months in which I became a proud father ofa cute little girl whom we named Rakshithaa, one fine day I opened the balcony door to come face to face with Bees once again. The buzz that seemed to me like an assassin's grin made me say that "Oh no not again". But having seen the end of a bee hive before, i told myself that this time I would try a bit more and do something that would not harm these little creatures much at the same time retaining the balance of power over my balcony. So this time I didn't panic and calmly searched the google Bangalore for anything and everything to do with 'Bees', 'Hives', 'Beekeeping', 'Apiaries' and 'Apiology'. In the process I found out some interesting facts.
1. Bangalore has hosted International Bee Congress couple of times.
2. ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) has a beekeeping wing that helps farmers and other entrepreneurs who want to do some honey business.
3. The famous Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has a Centre for Ecological Sciences(CES) that has among other things,an Insect Behaviour Lab (IBL).

I came across the website of one professor Mausumi Sen Sharma who had written in detail about Apis Flora a species of bee and about her research with them, specially their unique behavioural charecteristics.So I sent a mail to her and waited for a day. Nothing happened. So the next day I picked up my phone and called up the Centre for Ecological SCiences and asked for Prof. Mausumi. A student Ms.Shakthi answered the call and I explained the whole history of my current predicament. She listened patiently and told me that the Bee research had concluded and Prof. Mausumi is in USA currently doing further research on her "winged buzzards". That pretty much unsettled me and I asked her if there is anyone who can help mewith a swarm of bees. She told me that there is a person Mr.Ponnanna who had helped Prof.mausumi earlierwith her experiments with Bees and asked me to leave my phone number with her. I did as she told and waited for the rest of the day and didn't receive any call. I decided to wait for another day and finally my phone rang and it was Mr.Ponnanna. I gave him directions to home and he told me that he would come on the Saturday as he can't take leave on the weekdays. I was a bit surprised as the earlier 'experts' had chosen dead of the night to do bee roasting. On the D-day, I picked him up from a rendezvous point nearby my house. He was an affable man with a scholarlyappearance and a "Black Bag". On the way I got to know from him that he is from Coorg and has handled bees from a very young age. He also appreciated me taking the pains to call him instead of taking the kerosene and fire route to handle bees.Once we reached the 'ground - zero', that is the balcony, the gentleman opened his black bag to reveal three chemical sprays, a small box of a bee repellant and a full body apron like the ones scientists wear in CDC (Centre for Communicable Diseases) in Robin Cook's novels. He asked for a small tripod or something on which he can stand and handle the bees. I was like , wait a minute ' handle the bees?' and he coolly replied"Havudhu"('Yes' in Kannada). I provided him a wooden chair and then he pulled up his socks into his trousers and pulled on a pair of gloves. He then sprayed a commercial bee spray( which he later told me that he procured from one of the scientists who was returning from USA). I went into the house and watched the drama through the window. He started shaking the bee hive ever more gently. As he gently shook the bee hive the eternal order in the colony became a chaos. The immediate response was to attack the source of disturbance. However the spray must have been quite a repellant and the bees seemed to fly away from the hive, but only a while. they would return and Mr. Ponnanna would spray again, this time with a different spray. As he was wearing the apron, the bees that stung him, fell down in pain as their sting gland had fallen bursting their abdomen open. Now that must ring a bell about the Samurais'(Warriors of medeival Japan)'Harakiri' an ultimate act of self sacrifice. These bees must have been the inspiration for the samurais suicide brigades. The majority of the bees must have realized that the battle is progressively a loosing proposition, so they started to consolidate around the tree that was lying oposite to the apartment. After a couple of sprays, Mr. Ponnanna started to slowly take the wax honey comb and shook of any bes that were stuck to the honey comb. Then he applied a bee repellant on the area of the ceiling where the honey comb was lying a few minutes earlier. With all the bees unsettled and hesitant to start collecting on the same area, the genial coorgi started to take off the apron and any other protective clothing he was wearing, all while there were thousands of angry bees buzzing around. Having acomplished the mission, he took the honey comb and showed it to me. Taking the wax honeycomb in my hand was a truly humbling experience. The beautiful hexagonal cells where the hardworking bees collect the pollen from various flowers and where honey is produced for feeding thousands of bee egg and larvae was simply a structure with ergonomical efficiency which human minds can only dream and aspire for building, yet impossible to achieve. Then Mr. Ponnanna shared with me his experiences of handling various insects as a part of research at CES. He also told that the species of bees that built the beautiul comb was "Apis Dorsetta". He also told me that he had earlier been called in to remove a bee hive at Anil Kumble's house in Basavangudi. I felt like being in an elite company for a fleting moment. The conversation later on revolved around how these creatures that once had huge trees of Bangalore as home are increasingly becoming destitute trying to hold on to man made structures in place of tree branches. When asked about the repellants and sprays he had used, he told that two of the sprays and the bee repellant chemical were his own concoctions and the scientists in CES have asked him to file an IP for that. I hope that he does that and gets some commercial return for his years of association with bees and wasps. He concluded with an invitation to the CES and the Insect Behaviour Lab an invitation that I will use up to see his unique collection of bees and the institute's latest subject of research - Wasps. Another group of winged insects that drive terror in the minds of weak hearted earthlings like me. On the way back after helping Mr. Ponnanna to board a bus to Majestic, I noticed a newly formed hive in the nearby tree. I remembered his observation that now there will be a search bee party that will locate a new site for their hive based on factors like wind, light and temperature and soon the colony will move on, much like the slum dwellers of urban India who get evicted on a fine day by powers that be. The irony did make me feel bad, yet felt happy at the end of the day as I had not killed a huge number of bees in the process and that the colony a unique gene pool has another chance to live on and prosper.
May the laws of nature prevail!!

ps: I have given the links for CES in the links section.


Blogger karthik vazhkudai said...

hi ganesh: have to say that this was a very interesting write-up. How any of us who profess to be vegetarians blinks our eyelids before stomping out insects or other winged creatures. Seldom do we think that it is indeed us who have invaded their habitats. So in essence we are the pests, not them!

6:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



this is a very beautiful narration i have ever come across, so greatly expressed in a very descriptive manner.Now you are really falling in to my line of sharing the experience with others as truly as possible to make them get a feel about the same.

my hearty congrats to you once again but i felt a little that you didn't share when you were physically present here.

i think you have wonderful knowledge about insects and their living pattern.This really shows your skill and i would henceforth call u as a living encyclopaedia. I can refer to you for anything in future.

Keep it up. Rakshithaa and vidhu are lucky to have such an intelligent person around..

4:06 PM  
Blogger V.P.Jaiganesh said...

You are spot on. There are so many self professed snake lovers to do not think too much when they kill insects.
In fact there is a deep rooted phobia and aversion towards insects, very strange for a culture that thrives big time on clothes and food products manufactured out of humble insects hard work(silk and honey). In fact I was reminded of a scene in "Pandavar Bhoomi" where an architect performs a manai pujai and then tells the meaning which reads something like an apology letter for all the displaced animals including insects and worms!! Our ancestors have thought so minutely and have been so sensitive. What a fall from grace it is for our culture. From heghts of tolerance to an abyss of intolerance and hatred to our own people in the name of caste, religion, language, race and sex!!
Dear MIL!
Thanks for those kind words of appreciation. My experience of writing a blog has been to never express or share the experience till I start writing. This gives me a "good creative pressure". I keep the thougts and experiences bottled up and let go when I start to type. This way, I have found that there is a good rhythm and pace to the writing and originality as well. Vidhya too can write really well and I have been asking her to blog. Let us see if she will join the "Blog bandwagon" soon. My write up will pale in comparison to your emotion recounting of experiences and feelings, not speaking out of humility just plain fact. Please contribute more to this blog as well. It will make this blog more lively and rich.

7:49 AM  
Blogger BIHARILAL said...

Hu ganesh, i read your writeup and i am facing with the similar bee hive problem, can you give me the contact no is Mr. Poonamma. mu number is 98863 77698. it will be great if i can get mr. poonamma to remove the same

2:54 PM  
Blogger Magic :) said...

Stumbled upon ur post, when I was searching for a way of removal of bees causing them least harm. I see ur post is dated back in 2006 and following the leads u used may not be fruitful. would u have mr Ponnanna's no for me to reach him directly to see if he can help. My contact is

1:48 PM  
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3:10 PM  
Blogger Banavasi Mahesh said...

Hello Sir,
Can you please give me the contact of Ponnappa, I also have a big beehive in my balcony. I dont want to kill them. All the pest control people suggesting only way is to kill them.
My contact number is 9972460746.

10:43 AM  

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