Whether we like it or not, there is a lizard lurking deep within us. Life on this planet emerged in the seas, then moved to land and then evolved into many species. The transformation from fish to lizard to what we are now is not disputable. Of course our brains contain residues from previous species. Evolution's tinkering gave lizards the brain they needed to hunt and survive in a tough world, and our brains still have that ancient wiring. Lizard-Brain is a light-hearted way of describing the most primitive part of our human brain which is also called as R Complex.
Very few of us like lizards. In practice I have seen many patients who are mortally afraid of these creatures. Where does this fear emanate from? Lizards are generally considered to be bad omens in Indian astrology. A lizard falling on an individual forebode good or evil depending on which part of the body it comes into contact with. The study of falling of lizards is called Gauli Shastra. According to this shastra, every movement of a lizard holds significance and there are not less than 65 places where the lizard could fall on the human body that would foretell good and bad omens. According to this shastra, when a lizard falls on the head, it is not a good omen, rather a bad one. It indicates disputes or quarrels. If the fall is in the center of the head, it spells disease. And of course there are methods to overcome harm by lizards. In one of the chambers of the Varadaraja Swamy Temple in Kanchipuram there is a golden lizard on the ceiling. Touching it is believed to protect from any future harm by lizards!
Lizards are ubiquitous. They lurk in every corner of our house. So it was that during a recent trip to K Gudi, when the resident naturalist said, “Sir, look at that lizard”, I didn’t evince much interest. But my curiosity surged when he mentioned that it was a flying lizard. And there it was….so beautifully camouflaged on the tree bark. It took me several minutes to spot it. As I watched, it moved swiftly along the tree, stopping occasionally to snap up an insect. Quite unexpectedly, there was a flash of yellow beneath its head, in this otherwise dull colored lizard, which is probably used for social display Then suddenly it made a swift gliding movement to another tree! The flying lizards are very unusual because they do not use any of their limbs for flying. Instead, they are able to spread out their ribs to form fairly immobile wings which allow them to glide for short distances.
The Southern Flying Lizard Draco dussumieri,(Draco is derived from the Latin word for dragon!), is an accomplished glider and can glide up to a distance of 30 meters. Photographing it was a bit of a challenge as it was impossible to predict what it would do in the next moment!
The encounter with the flying lizard reminded me of the novella by Poornachandra Tejaswi, called Carvalho. The hero of the book Professor Carvalho, is "a great botanist, an entomologist of genius", stationed in rural Chikmagalur. He is on the trail of a very rare lizard, one that can fly. The creature is a living fossil, a relative of the dinosaurs that survived the threat to their extinction by growing wings. At last he finds the lizard-or something that might be THE lizard and give it chase as it glides through the trees, slipping past his hands again and again to reach the very edge of the Western Ghats. Now Carvalho thinks that he has got it: The lizard is at a sheer cliff with nowhere to go. The mysterious reptile, however, has one last trick to play on its pursuer. Did he find the lizard? Yes only to lose it, as it jumps into an abyss. It is a tale of excitement tinged with wonderment of the unknown. As Alexander Pope commented, “All nature is art, unknown to thee”.
Gazing from its perch
It was launching itself
From tree to tree
A flash of yellow
Glittering in the warm afternoon
A dazzling shoot
On the bare tree trunk
Vaulting into the impossible