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Birds At Sea: Stormy Petrels

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Arun Bhatia

Mar 15, 2023 .3 Mins read


Arun Bhatia dips into his vast archive of life experiences to bring us a slice-of-life story from the Queen Elizabeth luxury liner in 1952.

Back in the summer of 1952, on board the 8,3000-ton luxury liner Queen Elizabeth in the mid-Atlantic, two nights after we had left Southampton, I overheard one of the ship’s crew. His tense voice was in a private conversation: “…aye…boy from the cabin class it was that killed it; don’t know the boy’s weapon…”

Another seaman, also in uniform, said: “Aw, just a .22 air rifle…Mother Carey’s chickens fly right along with us, easy targets they are, come to think of it…”

Then came another voice: “Who’d ever think of sniping one of them…I don’t like it; I don’t like it at all.”

There was distinct fear in those voices. They were moans, really, full of dread. The sailors became aware of my presence and stopped talking, and dispersed. But elsewhere on board, the other seamen looked as though they were afraid, too. There was a pall of gloom. I tried to find out more about how a chicken could fly right along our ship, be shot by a .22 air rifle, and why seamen should be tense in the mid-Atlantic because of it. There was a library on board, and the librarian, a kindly bald Englishman, had some answers for me.

<b>Storm Petrel/Pixabay</b>
Storm Petrel/Pixabay

It turned out that even on a luxury liner like Queen Elizabeth, seamen were seamen, prone to the same superstitions that have been with them for generations. Mother Carey’s chickens is the name given to the small oceanic birds called petrels, the more commonly known among them being the storm-petrels, which are seen especially during wild weather in the Atlantic. They paddle along the surface of the waves, fly rapidly, and when in pursuit of food, they suspend themselves by extending their wings and appear to run on the surface of the water.

The Apostle Peter walked on water, and after him, they were called petrels (“little Peters”). “Mother Carey” is the Anglicized Latin Mater Cara (“Dear Mother,” an appellation of the Virgin Mary.) Seamen consider the very appearance of these birds to presage a storm, hence the name “storm petrels.”

It is thought particularly unlucky to kill one of them.

After finding out that much, I went on deck, hoping to see some. The nippy ocean wind tingled my cheeks, the occasional sea spray added to the cold on deck, and I hugged my overcoat tightly around me. It was a marvellous sight, indeed, when I spotted some petrels: They are pretty little birds with white rumps and plover-like legs. They were skimming the surface of the water, easily keeping up with our ship’s speed, and they never seemed to tire. Contrary to superstition, there was no storm.

But as I walked on deck, I spotted a seasick teenage boy looking green with nausea, heaving, often bending double, retching by the side of the ship.

He was clutching a .22 rifle in his unsteady hand.

Cover image: Wikimedia Commons

Over the years, Arun Bhatia has encountered petrels and also some legends. Here's a short but memorable encounter with JRD Tata.

Calling our Members to Write for Us!

Silver Talkies Members get a unique chance to get published with us. We welcome travelogues, family recipes, memoirs, oral history accounts, short stories, poems, humour and personal essays, tips on living well and if you are a qualified subject matter expert, then your thoughts on your chosen topics as well. Email us at to know more!

Maslenitsa In Moscow

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Kala Sunder

Mar 13, 2023 .7 Mins read


Maslenitsa is a Russian festival similar to Holi, says Kala Sunder in this festive dispatch from Moscow.

Maslenitsa is an Eastern Slavic festival to bid goodbye to the long, harsh winter and welcome life-giving spring. The name is derived from the Russian 'maslo', which means butter (originally 'anything that can be spread') and symbolises richness and plenty. Like most festivals worldwide, its origins lie in nature and agricultural methods. In the ancient Slavic tradition, Maslenitsa was celebrated at the end of February, and the New Year began in March. According to some experts, Maslenitsa was observed in late March, around the spring equinox. Yet, this earthy and exuberant celebration of rebirth collided with Lent's austerity and spiritual meaning and was relocated to the week before the Lenten fast (Great Fast). It became a week of eating, fun and partying, the last fling before the severe Great Fast.

<b><i>Image courtesy: Kala Sunder</i></b>
Image courtesy: Kala Sunder

During Soviet times, the policy of atheism highlighted the festival's earlier secular aspects. As a student in the 1970s, I learnt of Maslenitsa as part of the course on Russian folklore. There were hardly any public celebrations then, but in many homes, the traditional Maslenitsa bliny (pancakes) were made, and I got to enjoy them. Maslenitsa is now a mix of the ethnic, the Orthodox Christian faith and the God of Commerce. It is not a public holiday, but week-long events are in parks and city squares. 

The parallels between Maslenitsa and our Holi are striking – a spring festival with a religious veneer, a boisterous celebration of colour with family, friends and neighbours, a day when inhibitions are relaxed, culminating in the burning of an effigy as a symbol of the beginning of a new cycle of life.  

The traditional observance of Maslenitsa brought the whole community together in laughter and play before the hard work of tilling and sowing began in the spring. Each day had its significance. On the first day, an effigy of Maslenitsa, or 'Lady Butter', was fashioned out of a pole, straw and leftover pieces of cloth, paraded around the village and then installed in an open space to preside over the events. Bliny were made in large quantities throughout the week. The first bliny was offered to the departed souls and the poor. Then they were carried across to the neighbours and served to guests. 

The Bliny Making

In popular belief, the golden round bliny symbolises the sun and invokes its warmth. Bliny can be made of different flours (wheat, buckwheat, oat), with yeast or without, baked or spread on a griddle like a dosa. They are served with various fillings and accompaniments – from the traditional butter, cottage cheese, sour cream, honey or preserves, meat and mushroom to the more recent caviar, condensed milk and chocolate. Spinach and beetroot bliny are the current healthy options. Some people abstain from meat and poultry during Maslenitsa in preparation for the Great Fast, but dairy is still allowed.

In this statistics-crazy country, it is estimated that 87% of the population will eat bliny this year, and 75% will make them at home.
- <b><i>Bliny/Image: Pixabay</i></b>
Bliny/Image: Pixabay

How The Festival Unfolds

Maslenitsa entertainments included making a mound of snow and sledging down its sides, troika (drawn by three horses) rides, building an ice fort and staging mock battles, fist fights, dressing up in masks and funny costumes, jumping over bonfires, singing and dancing. European travellers to Russia have left accounts of these boisterous games, which often ended in accidents and sometimes in tragedy. The young were given greater freedom to meet during these events; it was the time for courtship and matchmaking. Marriages arranged at this time would usually be celebrated later when there was more produce and funds. This also provided time for a re-think. Couples who had married any time after the previous Maslenitsa was considered newlyweds and expected to visit their relatives at this time. That tradition survives to this day, though in a different form - as a tour of the city's landmarks with a photographer. 

<b><i>Image courtesy: Kala Sunder</i></b>
Image courtesy: Kala Sunder

A Family Affair

Sons-in-law were special guests on the third day of Maslenitsa. But on the fifth day, it was the turn of the son-in-law to invite the mother-in-law and demonstrate to her - and to the friends, she brought along - his bliny-making skills. Now that is a custom we in India should emulate. The next day was sister-in-law's day when the husband's sisters and other relatives were invited to bliny and given small presents. 

While strengthening family ties, Maslenitsa provided one day as a safety valve. On this day, you were allowed to make fun of anyone and let off steam against those in power – elders, the local policeman, landlord, merchant, even the Governor himself. 

On the final day, the effigy of Maslenitsa is burnt, a symbolic goodbye to winter. The last bliny are thrown into the fire and sometimes, old and unwanted things too. Finally, the ash is scattered over the fields to ensure regeneration and a good harvest. 

<b><i>Image courtesy: Kala Sunder</i></b>
Image courtesy: Kala Sunder

My Maslenitsa Experience

This year, Maslenitsa was observed from February 20 to 26. Our neighbourhood square was decorated with sun motifs, although some little Christmas trees were still in place. Rocking horses and a merry-go-round were set up for the younger children. A smithy complete with a small furnace was installed in the open where older children and adults could try to fashion hot metal rods into various shapes. Experienced metalworkers were there to guide, and yes, fire extinguishers were at hand. Loud hammering noises from another corner became a popular spot to stamp coins on an anvil with a heavy hammer. All this was free. Workshops in various traditional crafts like painting on wood, Maslenitsa doll-making and straw broom-making were happening in the stalls around the square. These required prior registration and a small fee. Judging by the lines, there were enough takers. A café was doing brisk business in bliny pastries, hot tea and coffee, although the prices were rather steep. Small entrepreneurs sold artisanal cheeses, honey, preserves, herb teas, salted fish and cold meats. Their goods were not cheap but had a dedicated clientele, much like in India's organic and health food stores. There was no effigy because the square was too small and unsafe for a bonfire. "Go to the Centre," the organiser suggested. "There you'll find a big Maslenitsa effigy. There will be a concert in the evening, fireworks, street entertainers, and lots of fun." I suspected there would be booming music and a loud MC too. Instead, we took a train to a park on the outskirts with a towering 'Lady Butter'. She looked so attractive that I felt sorry she would be set aflame. 

Find out more:

Maslenitsa is reflected in many paintings by Russian masters:

Cover image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

Have you found festivals in other countries with concepts or customs similar to Indian festivals? Isn't it always a joy to find similarities amidst our differences? Share your thoughts or experience with us in the comment box below.

How to spot a Phone Scam

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Silver Talkies

Mar 3, 2023 .4 Mins read

Money matters

Older adults are often victims of phone scams. Here are some simple rules to follow to avoid being scammed.

A Noida-based elderly couple lost Rs 8 lakh to cyber fraud in January; a 74-year-old from Haryana lost 11 lakhs. News headlines are filled with phone scams that are on the rise, with older adults as the victims. Even if you are a tech-savvy older adult, the con jobs are done in a way that can dupe anyone. Here are some simple, smart, easy-to-follow tips from Lavanya Mohan that apply to all ages. Stay alert and stay safe.

·      Scammers usually text or call, claiming to be from some essential service - the bank, a credit card company, the electricity board or the telephone network.

·      Scam messages and calls have vague details. For example, you might get a text that says: electricity bill for the past month is due" or "phone bill not paid this month". However

Model Behaviour: Rani Swamy On Modelling As An Older Adult

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Rani Swamy

Feb 24, 2023 .10 Mins read


Silver Talkies Club member Rani Swamy has done almost 20 modelling assignments. She shares her experience.

I was a complete novice when I entered this exciting industry. My friend Kalpana Rao, a leading model and actor, referred and encouraged me. Kalpana and I met at a Silver Talkies event and hit it off, and we are good friends. I was so amused when she suggested I try my hand at modelling. It never struck me that I could even try! But then, life is full of opportunities, and I thought to myself, why not!

Kalpana shared some contacts in the modelling industry. I was apprehensive about my chances, but she encouraged me to give it a try. 

I did not know how to proceed at first. I just contacted a few people who asked me to send my pictures. I was unsure what pictures to send, so I sent them whatever was available on my mobile phone. They seem to have worked! One fine day I was called by a casting agent, and they told me that they had selected me to play a granny's role for Britannia Good Day biscuits - a print ad. 

It was thrilling and also intimidating. This was my first modelling assignment, and I was very nervous. I was asked to send a few pictures of the saris I possessed, and they selected 3-4 saris for me to wear. But I needn't have been nervous. At the shoot, everyone was relaxed and friendly. The little girl playing my granddaughter had already done many ads; I was in awe of her! She was confident and emoted her role with so much ease! In other words, an experience to remember. 

<b>Rani in an ad for sarees</b>
Rani in an ad for sarees

My Journey Onwards

If you wish to be a model, the details of many casting agents are available on Facebook and Instagram. You can contact them and let them know of your interest in modelling.

Casting agents ask you to send your pictures with details like age, height, languages spoken, place of stay, and so on; most of them ask you to send an introduction video where you can give all the information. Sometimes the casting agents provide tips on how they want the intro video. Once agents have your credentials and if you are good at what you do, casting agencies will contact you when there are suitable assignments. Many assignments also happen through word of mouth. Sometimes casting agents require you to make a professional portfolio, though I still need to do it. Many of them will create the portfolio for you for a price.

Once you have an assignment, you must be prepared to spend the whole day at the shoot. If the shoot is supposed to end at 6 pm, it may even go late into the night. Of course, as a professional, you are expected to cooperate without complaints. But the atmosphere is amiable and respectful, especially for older adults. Food is arranged, and some production houses arrange transport or pay Uber charges.


Modelling is a hobby for me, and I don't push myself, though I have given my hundred per cent every time I have worked in an ad. I do not contact anyone for assignments. If something comes up and I like it, I take it on. But if you wish to spread the word about yourself, there are avenues. For example, you can make reels and post them on Instagram or shoot small videos and post them on Facebook. I have not done it, but if any of my ads are published, I post them on FB tagging the agent who got me the ad.


When you start, the remuneration for print ads is about Rs 4,000-5,000 a day, depending on the agency. It goes up gradually. Digital ads could pay more, depending on the client and agency. Cities like Mumbai are supposed to pay better.

I have done about 20 ads now (including a small role in a Tamil movie), and each shoot has been an enriching experience. Seeing yourself on a massive billboard or an ad film is also a thrill.

Modelling is a hobby that came to me by chance, and though I haven't pushed for more work, it has been an enjoyable journey.

All images courtesy: The Author

Calling our Members to Write for Us!

Silver Talkies Members get a unique chance to get published with us. We welcome travelogues, family recipes, memoirs, oral history accounts, short stories, poems, humour and personal essays, tips on living well and if you are a qualified subject matter expert, then your thoughts on your chosen topics as well. Email us at to know more!

Here's another feature on becoming a senior model from our archives.

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