Suhel Quader is a post-doc who is at Rishi Valley for a while studying why cuckoos (koels) lay their eggs in crows' nests, and why the crows tolerate this infiltration. On my last morning at the school, and at short notice, he is drafted to speak to the junior school (4th to 8th standards) at their morning assembly. He speaks about the coming of the monsoon and the things you can find around you in the rainy season.
You know -- little creepy-crawly things, mosquitos, those things.
It's a delightful 20 minutes. Not just because of Suhel's fascinating insights.
First, before he gets started, there's a commotion in the middle of the audience. The kids squeal and laugh and squeeze up against each other, suddenly forming an empty space in the middle. One gets up and runs off to clean his feet. Something has fallen from, or through, the thatched roof. Possibly the excretions of a crow. Possibly the excretions of a civet. Life in RV.
But there's more fun ahead. Speaking of mosquitos, Suhel says the females lay hundreds of eggs in any little bit of standing water. A 5th standard hand shoots up. "Not hundreds, thousands of eggs!"
Why, asks Suhel, do only the female mosquitos bite us humans? Several hands shoot up. Suhel points to one. "Because the males are vegetarian."
Suhel points to another one. "I don't know, but you know, the females want fresh blood, so they don't bite old people."
Termite hills, says Suhel, can be quite large. In South America and Africa, they can be as high as this -- he holds his hand up at head level. A voice from somewhere near the cleared-by-civet space asks, "Taller than a giraffe?" Suhel says no.
Finally, Suhel suggests that especially in the monsoon, but always, the kids should be careful about picking up stones. There might be scorpions and centipedes underneath, which can bite very painfully. A hand flutters up in response to this. "But sir, there are precautions you can take before picking up stones!"
And what are those precautions? asks Suhel.
"Well, you can jump on the stone again and again to squash the centipedes."