Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The Royal Bengal Tigers of Sunderbans

Bhatir Desh, land of tides, Sunderbans is the largest reverine delta and the largest mangrove tiger-land of the world. It is also the largest National Park of India and the only mangrove habitat for the Royal Bengal Tigers. According to 2004 census, tiger population in the Indian side was 274 and their combined population in the whole of Sunderbans, including the areas in Bangladesh, was 400. This largest mangrove forest in the world is one of the most important World Heritage sites. But it got its name from the profusion of Sundari trees. Bon Bibi is the presiding deity of this vast land with 108 islands and overflowing water, comprising of 9630 sq km on the Indian side. UNESCO declared it as a Biosphere Reserve. A bigger part of Sunderbans falls in Bangladesh besides the Sunderbans in India, the subject of our discussion. Of this Indian side 4264 sq km is reserved forest of which 2585 sq km swathe in the south-east makes up the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve. Signifying all this in its single name, Sunderbans is a legend to people near and far.
A stretch of three hundred kilometer from the Hooghly river in West Bengal to the shore of Meghna river in Bangladesh (Meghna is actually Brahmaputra flowing from beyond Assam in the north-east) - the forest contains thousands of islands forming an immense archipelago.
Tides high and low are the regular features of this tide country. Not only the mighty Ganga and Brahmaputra but their innumerable tributaries, channels and canals thread the fringe of the land meeting the sea. Sea enters into the rivers, flooding the land throughout the stretch, creating and un-creating islands. Some islands have remained for ages, some were born yesterday and gone soon after. During high tides all become watery; most parts of the islands are lost. Again they rise up. The boundaries between land and water always mutate. Some are the mighty rivers there like Raimangal and Matla and some are of a few kilometers in length. The soil is almost always muddy.
The Tigers of Sunderbans
The 500 pound massive terrestrial beast learnt to swim, walk stealthily to hunt for fish, crab, reptiles and crabs and gradually humans too. With the habit of drinking salty water and varied diet, Sunderban tigers have a distinct advantage over other tiger population elsewhere which continue to amaze ecologists.
Conversion of mangrove land into paddy land, hunting and poaching contributed to the degradation of this natural tiger habitat. Though leopard, wild water buffalo, Javan and one-horned rhinos, swamp and hog deer and several plant species disappeared, the canny Royal Bengal Tiger survived.
It is said that a tiger of Sunderbans will never look at your face or come in front. They always attack from behind. It is said that Royal Bengal Tigers of Sunderbans always watch you, themselves remaining invisible behind the trees and bushes. If by chance one beholds a tiger he does not survive to tell his tale. It is a fact that tigers there are real man-eaters. They love human flesh more than the other types of flesh. Many theories have been put forward for this. The impressive one is that the salinity of the water they drink induces in their blood a preference for human flesh. An English naturalist, J. Frayer gave the Royal name to the tigers of Sunderbans, the Royal Bengal Tiger. Royal Bengal has become a part of folk culture, an essential tradition to live with, a part of the religion of all the humans living around the presiding deity of the forest, Bon Bibi.
Man-Animal Conflict
Many of the Sunderban tigers are man-eaters. They often enter the villages. Every alternate day they killed a human being. Record shows that during the period from 1860 to 1866 they killed 4218 human beings. But the situation has changed drastically. The number of tigers in India has greatly been reduced. Sunderbans may have some 240 to 280 or less tigers now. So the killing rate has been reduced considerably. Still the lives of honey gatherers, wood cutters and fishermen are at risk when they enter the vulnerable areas of the forest. On an average some 16 killings are reported every year while the actual figures are much higher. But why the animals would enter the human habitation and kill them if they get enough to eat within their territories? Based on facts, some explanations have been found, besides the talk of their taste for human flesh and blood, as we have discussed.
To the north and north-west lie 54 reclaimed densely populated islands. Here live about four million economically marginalized people on subsistence farming; cultivating prawns, collecting forest produce and fishing. While the Government permits 15000 people to enter the reserved forest area for catching fish using 960 boats, the numbers of fishermen are 35000. Many of them enter the forest illegally for their livelihood. There is a constant clash between the Government and NGOs on one side, trying to preserve the dwindling tiger population and the ever increasing population on the other side, wishing to earn their livelihood from the forest produce, even at the cost of animal attacks. Sunderbans is a typical example of man- animal clash. For fear of fine they do not disclose many times their injuries or death by tigers inside the Reserve where they enter illegally.
The more potent reason of their straying and killing men is that during April-May mangrove plants are in full bloom. It is the honey collecting season and at the same time it is the littering season of tigresses. 40000 men are given permit to enter the buffer zone to collect honey and exploit forest products in a sustainable manner, as considered. Due to the northern movement of the tigers, man- animal meeting occurs here every year. Once they taste human flesh, man is included in their prey base and the tigresses teach their cubs to be man-eaters. So men intrude in their areas to be killed sometimes.
Within the Tiger Reserve there is a core area to the south-east, of 1330.12 sq km, where most of the tigers used to live. Another 1255 sq km area is called the buffer zone. Scientific research shows that due to global warming the surface water is getting more salty. Consequently fresh water loving sundari trees are getting reduced in the south. Satellite images have shown that during the last 40 years 20 per cent of the mangrove forest has been dwindled there. Though Sunderban tigers drink saline water, it is becoming too salty. For all these tigers are moving from south to the north and north-west where human habitation is dense. Another reason for their straying into human areas is the difficulty of marking territories by urine, which all cats do, due to such markings getting washed away by tides. They move and move, without knowing their boundaries and in spite of some man made nylon net boundaries, they move into villages where they find cattle, children and sometimes men, roaming. One kill allures them for a second visit for after all, they are carnivores and dwindling of forest results in the paucity of their prey. And for their ever reducing habitat tigers enter the human habitation and kill cattle, sometimes men.
The mode of commutation between the islands and the main land is through water by boats. While the men want more roads, more jetties and bridges to improve access to the mainland, the tigers do not want it: More the denseness and inaccessibility more the safety available to the tigers. Poachers are the modern day enemies to wildlife everywhere.
Another man made reason is that here too as elsewhere, number of staff in Forest Departments are inadequate, number of posts remain vacant. So conservation work sufferes.
In spite of all problems men are now learning the lesson of reducing the forest and destroying its wild residents: the Nature. By constant campaign and education people in Sunderbans have recently learnt to honour ecology. They sometimes catch tiger in their nets and boats and with the help of the forest department and other volunteers release the big cat in the forest. Men have learnt that tiger is our national heritage and that all efforts are to be made to live with them, rather than kill them.
The Legend
Amitav Ghose, the novelist, recovered the story of Bon Bibi and bit of history of this wonder land to make the body of his work-The Hungry Tide. The legend goes like this: Once upon a time Ibrahim of Medina, who lived a pious life of a Sufi mendicant, was so blessed by the Archangel Gabriel as to become the father of twins, Bon Bibi and her brother Shah Jongoli. When they came of age, the Archangel appeared before them to remind them their divine ordained mission of freeing the land of eighteen tides in Bengal for human habitation which belonged to non-human beings for ages. Thus from Arabia they reached the mangrove forest in the shores of the Bay of Bengal. Atharo Bhatir Desh or land of eighteen tides was then ruled by a demon king, Dokkhin Rai. They utterly defeated the demon but gave him freedom to rule half of his erstwhile kingdom, thus making the other half ready for human habitation.
Gradually men approached and began to live there. The story fits in the tale of the early settlers. In modern times-1903- Sir David Mackinnon Hamilton, the Scotsman, bought ten thousand acres of the tide country from the British East India Company and started the first cooperative venture in the country in making the new settlements in Gosaba, Rangabelia, Satjela, Lusibari and other places, which had once been inhabited but abandoned due perhaps to natural calamities.
The miracles of Bon Bibi continued to spread in the land of the settlers. She saved many who called her earnestly in utter distress, like Dukhey, as in Abdur Rahim’s work, Bon Bibir Karamoti orthat Bon Bibi Johuranam. Dukhey was abandoned in the jungle by his greedy countrymen, under agreement with Dokkhin Rai, to be devoured by him in exchange for enormous wealth. He was saved at the last moment and taken home by the Queen, the presiding deity of the Forest, Bon Bibi. Shah Jongoli, her brother, again admonished the demon. King to prove that Gods are always there in between the man and the demon. Tiger is the symbol of demon in the Sundarbans. Men are so afraid that they do not bring its name in their mouths. None dares to enter the jungle without worshipping the Bon Bibi: Glory to Bon Bibi.



The Lotus

water splashing inside
swishing the edge of the boat-
dark green lotus leaves, close.

Talking about flowers and gardens, we remember one of the oldest flowers mentioned in our scriptures, the Lotus. By all means it is Indian. It was there in ancient India, it is here in modern India. It was regarded by all, specially by Hindus and Buddhists in ancient India, as the symbol of purity. We still hold the view. Growing in mud they remain free from any mud. No dirt can stick to it. They are like sacred and virtuous men, who remain unaffected in the filthiest surroundings. We remember Sri Ramakrishna advising his disciples to live like pankal machh, a kind of long round fish, which lives in the mud at the bottom of the tank but remains free from any mud, even as it eats mud. So lotus is born in mud, pankaja, but remains free from mud. A man or woman in ordinary life is sure to live in muddy atmosphere and rarely he or she is free from it, it is attached to his or her being. How we long to become a lotus!
In one of the stories in Mahabharata it is said that Bhima brought a lotus for his consort, which had one thousand petals, glowing like a sun. Its sweet heavenly fragrance could help prolong youth and revive beauty. According to another legend, Lord Vishnu was bathing in a lake on earth when a lotus bloomed and from within came Lord Brahma, who claimed that lotus was the prettiest flower one has ever seen on earth, though he agreed later with Vishnu that a particular rose, pale as moonbeam with sweet fragrance blooming in Vaikhuntha, was prettier. Sri Rama of Ramayana worshipped Goddess Durga with blue lotus. He became ready to pluck one of his eyes in absence of one such flower which Durga prevented him to do.
Sahasrar is the thousand petalled lotus, a subtle centre at the top of our head, the highest centre according to Tantra Shastra. It is a favourite flower for all pujas. Sri Sankaracharya, in his Bhaja Govindam, considered life as a drop of water floating and dancing on a lotus leaf. But it is most unsafe as the human life is, tossed about by attachments, diseases and grieves.
Nelumbo nucifera, sacred lotus- pointed bud on a long stem opening into large fragrant many-petalled pink flower with golden centre, was named as The Avatar- The Supreme Manifested on Earth in a Body- by the Mother. She also said that Pink lotus is Sri Aurobindo’s flower. And Nelumbo nucifera Alba- pointed bud on long stem, opening into large fragrant many-petalled white flower with golden centre, was called by her Aditi- the Divine Consciousness- pure, immaculate, gloriously powerful. It is said that Aditi is Mother’s flower.
The madhu or honey, prepared out of lotus flower, is one of the best foods and medicines. Besides other uses, it may be put into eyes for treatment. Lotus stem is also cooked and eaten by some. Lotus leaf is used as dish for eating at some places.

Every one likes Padma or kamal or tamarai, coming out of water and greeting the sun. The silky lotus leaf does not hold water. Drops of water look transparent in it. When rain falls profusely on lotus and lotus leaf, it makes a scene to rejoice. Poets have sung many a time about the transient nature of things symbolized by water drops on lotus leaf. In a Bengali folk song a young woman is said that her youth is like water on lotus leaf.
But there is a caveat about the nature of the flower. Out of its habitat, in a flower vas or pot or anywhere, it does not last long, particularly in a hot climate. Dried lotus looks burnt, deformed, far from the likeness of what it was before. But these are the attributes of life and death. So what! Don’t we love lotus? Wherever tanks and waterways are there, which are not much disturbed, grows the lotus, symbol of the divine consciousness; dancing rhythmically with the flowing air, amidst big deep green leaves, fragrant, beautiful and attractive. Our heart goes with them.
Recently we visited ISRO at Thumba, near Thiruvanthapuram, arranged by the organisers of a poetry festival. We entered their museum and beheld the electronic display, glass windows and other displays. We talked to them. We could see and realize the march of human progress through Science and Technology, Indian progress in space technology in particular. But nothing impressed me like the one I saw just after entering the compound. At the wall of the old church converted to museum house, on the ground level, there is a small cement pot with water and mud in it and out of it came out the stems of few pink lotuses- two buds and one blossomed, undulating in the air. Perhaps unnoticed by many, they adorn the entrance. They were there as we came out- the nature with its glory, surpassing all human achievements. Space, mud, water, flower and man- all are parts of nature. In nature we live. All our achievements grow out of it.


On Nature

From the Humble to the Tall

The Grass
Plastic under numbers of feet
Rises up immediately
Hearty and healthy
Ever happy ever fit
Silvery or rufous, mostly green
Under all weather young and serene
Hardy and tenacious
Born to help others
Without any fuss
The tall and humble grass.
It is time for the ego to go
To bloom silently and flow.

Just a few leaves, one or two stems and a seed-head, a very light body, that
is grass, very humble under the feet of any moving creature. But the tallest bamboo, which raises its head to the sky, is also a grass.
Wheat, rice, maize, sugar- all are grasses. Herbivores live on grasses and carnivores live on herbivores. Almost all lives depend on grass, directly or indirectly. The milk we drink is given by cattle or goat, the herbivores. This human life would be intolerable without grass. From the equator to the arctic snow, different types of grasses ensure better life for others, maintain ecological balance. The grasses serve even after death. Decayed grass root network beneath the soil is converted into humus, a power-pack of life. The primary level of anything is grass root. Fact is, we would not be able to live without grass.
Let us see how literature flourished in the background of grass and grassland. Savitri’s life was the growth of a flame. She was an immortal spirit in mortal frame. Attaining her youth, she found no earthly mate around her.
‘No equal heart came close to join her heart,
No transient earthly love assailed her calm,
No hero passion had the strength to seize;
No eyes demanded her replying eyes.’
(Sri Aurobindo. Savitri. SABCL; Vol-29. p.367)

‘Midst those encircling lives her spirit dwelt
Apart in herself until her hour of fate.’ (ibid. p.368)
She went out in quest of her mate, as if impelled by heart and soul. As her chariot halted in the fated spot, she felt deeply attracted to it.
‘As if a wicket-gate to joy were there
‘And slowly a supine inconstant breeze
Ran like a fleeting sigh of happiness
Over slumberous grasses pranked with green and gold.’
(ibid. p.392)
As she cast her glance-
‘It saw the green gold of the slumbrous sward,
The grasses quivering with the slow wind’s tread,
The branches haunted by the wild bird’s call.’ (ibid. p.394)
Satyavan ‘…appeared against the forest verge
Inset twixt green relief and golden ray.’ (ibid. p. 393)
‘Marvelling he came across the golden sward:
Gaze met close gaze and cling in sight’s embrace.’(ibid.p.396)
Then ‘Amazed by a joy for which they had waited long,
The lovers met upon their different paths,
Travellers across the limitless plains of Time.’
. . . .
‘A moment passed that was eternity’s ray,
An hour began, the matrix of new Time.’ (ibid. p.399
In Sri Aurobindo’s immortal epic Savitri the fated meeting between the two immortal lovers took place over a vast and dazzling grassland in the bosom of the wood.
Nature lovers and poets, particularly Nature-Poets and writers, having deep affinity with nature, ever loved grass and grassland. We remember Wordsworth, who rambled years after years on dales and fells of the Lakeland. Bibhutibhusan Bandopadhyay moved on horse back through forest and grassland of Lobtulia under the moonlit sky. Poet Jibanananda Das loved nature in all its aspects. His poems are replete with love for grass and trees, in seasons like autumn in particular. In a mood of reverie he wrote,
‘Some time this life will become grass in the fields
Under the blue sky, in an autumn morning.’ (A free translation from Aei Shanti; Dhusar Pandulipi)
In another poem (Niralok; Mahaprithivi) he wrote-
‘The evening sky is full of stars- this night sky;
Here I am lying in this shadow-mixed grass of the spring;
Death is better now- this grass caresses my body.
Vaishnavites considered that to be more patient than tree, to lie lower than the grass, is a particular trait of human character.
When we go to the Nobel laureate Russian writer Mikhail Sholokov, we see how he loved his native grassland, the steppe.
‘The feather-grass has ripened. For verst upon verst the steppe is clad in its shimmering silver. The wind treads springily across it, rustling and lifting its plumes, driving the bluish-grey opaline waves now south, now west. Where the air flows in a shady stream, the grass bows penitently and a darkening trail lingers long on its grizzled humps….
‘The moon is a dry salt marsh and in the steppe there is nothing but dryness and withered grass, vibrant with the ceaseless frenzied piping of the quails and metallic twang of the grass hopers.
‘The days are all heat….In the steppe the feather-grass shines blindingly, overpoweringly bright and the hot camel-brown turf smokes in the heat; the kite dips a wing as it glides amid the blue and its huge shadow sweeps silently across the withered grass beneath.
‘The susliks whistle languidly and huskily. The marmots doze on the fresh yellow diggings around their burrows. The steppe is hot but dead, the whole scene translucently still; even the dark-blue burial mound on the horizon is poised on the brink of the visible, as magical and elusive as a dream…
‘Beloved steppe! …. Beloved steppe beneath the low-hanging sky of the Don! The windings of your dry valleys, of your red-clay ravines, the feather-grass expanses, pitted with grass-grown nestlike hoofmarks, the ancient mounds guarding in wise silence the buried Cossack glory… I bow low and, as a son, kiss your fresh sweet earth, steppe of the Don, steeped in untrusting Cossack blood!’ (Quiet Flows the Don. Volume.2. pp.56-57.Moscow; Raduga Publishers.1984)
There is hardly a man on earth, even when he is a thorough Kensington, who has not seen and liked a piece of grassland, either consciously or unconsciously. Years back, when I was hunting for a home in a metropolis, a small patch of grass between the tall houses induced me to immediately settle down there for a flat.
Grass is a very common name under the family poaceae, which has some 10000 species, both annual and perennial. It is one of the four great terrestrial biomes. The others are forest, desert and tundra. From a very ancient time, from the age of dinosaurs, as the scientists say, the grass has been on earth. Tenacious, adaptable, fast-growing, efficient and tough, it is there, covering one fourth of the earth’s surface, despite continuous human activity, which dwindles its existence and dwarfs its growth.
Grass evolves very fast with the changing conditions. Anywhere after rains grows the grass with weeds. The growth of a few centimetres in a few hours is quite common. Its growth and existence depend on its tenacity. A tenacious colonizer, its seeds spread in the air. In its hook form it attaches itself to animal’s hair and body. Some of the seeds survive the digestive juice of the animals and give birth to plants, after excreted.
Let us see how the life of grass has appeared to a discerning poet-
‘Only grass grows on earth, carelessly accepting sun and rain, feeding on the soil’s life-giving juices, and humbly bowing before the storm’s destructive breath. And then, having scattered its seed to the winds, just as carelessly dies, welcoming with the rustle of its withered leaves the death-dealing rays of the autumn sun.’ (Mikhail Solokhov. Quiet Flows the Don. Moscow; Raduga.Vol-2. p.265)
Its production in Kenya and other African grasslands is prolific- 1000 kilos per square km
After the rains Serengeti is full of grasses to sustain other lives.
Every year a breath taking 1.5 million wildebeest, 60000 zebras and antelopes migrate to East African savanna grassland. I had the fortune of beholding the march of thousands of wildebeests from Tanzania to Ambasoli, Kenya, when I was there. Lions roll and loll. They get a prey any time they wish. They too migrate during the festival of grasses, following their preys.
Among the great grasslands of the world, we may mention woody savanna of Africa, Asia’s high steppes, particularly in Russia and China, tall prairie in USA, savanna in Brazil, Patagonia steppe in Argentina, different types of grasses, particularly bamboos in China, Japan and India, South West Australian shrub lands and woodlands. Among the grasslands of Indian subcontinent, mention may be made about sewan in Western Thar Desert, Banni in Saurashtra, Baasoor Kaval in Karnataka, Himalayan and Tibetan plateau. Western Rajasthan has steppe formation and the Deccan has savanna formation. And who will forget, among other things, the undulating white catkins of the tall kash in riverbanks, at the time of Durga Puja in Bengal? Apart from the natural growth of different types of grasses at different regions of the world, men have planted grasses of one area to another.
Apart from grazing, grasses are used for various other purposes. Medicinal purpose is one of them.
It is often observed that domestic carnivores like cats and dogs eat grasses to cure stomach and other diseases. Even tigers and lions in the wild take the help of grasses under the pressure of different ailments.
One such grass with high value medicinal properties, is known in India in various names like durba, doob, khariali, arugum pullu, bahama grass, couch grass, dog grass, bermuda grass, twitch grass, etc. Its botanical name is cynodon dactylon. It is known to the humans and animals from ages, as it is the staple food of some animals like horse, goat, rabbit and deer.
It contains chlorophyll, protein, mineral salt, ash, fibre, potash, calcium phosphorus and other chemicals necessary for bodybuilding. It gives strength to nerve. A regular ingestion of its juice cures many ailments. Even a walk over it gives new life to one’s lungs and strengthens his power of immunity. It is alkaline hence anti-acidic. It is good for teeth, eyes and stomach. Its juice has sweetness.
It is said that Lord Ganesha’s burning stomach was cured by durba. So it is offered to him during Puja. It is widely used in India for holy rituals. It has spiritual connotations.
Many are the everyday-use products made out of grasses. Madur grass in West Bengal and Kora grass in South India are regularly used for making mats. Masland and sitalpati of Midnapur district of West Bengal are finer grasses. Mats made out of them are well received in other parts of the country and abroad. Broom grass (thymolacna maxima) grows in Meghalaya. Brooms are in common use in our country. Savahi grass in Orissa is used to manufacture furniture. Buskets, trays, curios, coasters, dolls, toys and other utility items are produced from munj, sikri and bamboos. Tripura, Assam and other North Eastern provinces in India have specialized in making such items.
Bamboo is a perennial grass, belonging to bamboosoideae sub-family of graminea family. There are some 1200 species of it, of which India has 136 species. India has the largest bamboo forests, mostly concentrated in the North-East; Meghalaya, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Manipur account for some 58 species.
According to Forest Survey of India, 2003, bamboo covers 96 million hecatares or about 12.8 per cent of the total forest area. 10 million people depend on bamboo for a livelihood. Current demand for bamboo has been estimated at 26.69 million tonnes against a supply of 13.47 million tones. It can change the economy of a region, if properly cultivated and used. Of the various uses of bamboo a few are- making furniture, flooring, scaffolding, housing, road and bridge making. Herbivores like elephants eat bamboo leaves and rodents eat its seeds. Many such products are classified under cottage industry. The underground rhizome and secretion of the plant-tabasheer- are used as medicines. Bamboo shoot is a Chinese delicacy.
From the ancient age people have been using bamboo. It is very favourite with the tribal people. Chinese were the first to use bamboo for various purposes. Not only paper, they made books out of it. Bamboo huts and bamboo-bridges over streams are quite common in China and Japan. Bundles of fibres run through the culm, held together by the plant’s pith. Bamboo is the symbol of freedom, strength and resistance. It is the fastest growing grass.
Excepting a few, bamboos exhibit monocarpic flowering behaviour. They die after flowering. Tiny flowers are borne on compound inflorescence, which gives birth to seeds after pollination. With some species the flowering occurs after 40, 50 years. Some of them live 120 to 150 years. Bamboo flowering is a great affair.
Bamboos of the same species, wherever they are, flower at the same time. Entire bamboo forest burst into flower and after seeding they die, as if they commit mass suicide. It is considered to be a bad omen in many places, particularly in North-East India. Experience says that eating the protein-rich seeds, rodent population increases enormously and when the seeds are exhausted, they run to the fields and granaries and eat crops, which results in famine.
Bamboo checks soil erosion. After its death landslide occurs. Mizoram Government declares incentives for killing rats at that time. Such things happened there in 1976, 1978 and 1992. Next bamboo flowering was expected in India in 2003-2004.
Talking about bamboo, we remember some hair-raising common tales circulating in remote villages, where bamboo groves abound. Not only snakes, lizards, thieves and robbers take shelter in it, but also ghosts are often seen, living there or coming out of it. Children are scared to cross such groves in the evening.
There are numbers of very ornamental grasses, reeds and bamboos, which may acquire a place of pride in any garden. But very few are cultivated except the lawn grass. A few such good plants are mentioned below but one should know that overgrowths or hollow-cut stumps of bamboo bushes, like untrimmed hedge and unweeded shrubbery, may become a hiding place for rodents and reptiles, an abode of snakes.
Among the adorable bamboos, the following few may be mentioned. A.chrysantha, A.fortunei, A.japonica, B.pygmaea are Japanese bamboos and B.eutuldoides, B.gracellima, B.ventricosa (Buddha’s Belly bamboo), Phyllostachys aurea (golden bamboo) are natives of China. B.vulgaris originated in India, Africa, Java, Central and South America and West Indies.
P. heterocycla or tortoise shell bamboo and P. nigra or black bamboo (China
And Japan) also may be included in the list.
Agrostis (with about hundred species of flowering grasses), A.elegans, A.nebulosa or cloud grass, Cartaderia argentea or Pampas Grass, papyrus antiquorum or Papyrus or Egyptian paper reed, Briza media or common quaking grass and Tricholaena rosea or natal grass, Andropogon or Lemon Grass are some of the grasses which may adorn a garden.
If grass among plants is symbol of freedom, movement and self-reliance, nomads among men are the best representatives of such qualities. In their support one Graham Harvey in his Field of Grasses wrote, ‘Nomadic pastoralism has been described as one of the greatest advances in the evolution of human civilization. It is an adaptation by human groups to grassland areas of the world where extensive livestock production is more supportive of human culture than cultivated agriculture.’ (As quoted in Gobar Times, Down To Earth. June 30, 2003)
The famous Huns were nomads. In India Maldharis of Saurashtra, Rabaris of Kutch, Charans and Ahirs of Western India and Gajjars, Bakarwalas, Gaddis and Lepchas in the Himalayas are the known nomads for centuries. In India six per cent of the population are nomadic in nature. They have a thorough knowledge about the ecology of the arid grassland. They utilize the animals and the grassland in the most economic way. They are one of the very efficient communities in their own area of activity.
The march of civilization has inevitably invaded the grasslands everywhere, as the forests have been dwindled. Pastoralism, once considered the best way to use fragile ecosystem, has now been confined to 41 per cent of the arid and semi arid areas of the world. The age of nomads, mendicants and vagabonds have been much restricted though not ended. Though India supports a seventh of cattle and goat population of the world with a fortieth of its land. It has only five per cent of its land for the production of fodder, as against 60 per cent in USA, it has been reported. But one thing to be remembered in this context is that they harbour and feed such animals to eat them. They eat more animals than cereals and vegetables. The position is still quite different in India.
Grasslands are under tremendous pressure. Humans are encroaching upon them, turning them to croplands or urbanizing them. As a result, more number of animals than before, graze in the same patch of land. Food supply is restricted for them. Wildlife is becoming extinct. Baasoor Kaval in Karnataka is an example. The area of grassland in Rajasthan fell from 11.3 million hectares to 8.7 million hectares in 1977-78. It has been further reduced since then.
Bandipur National Park, with an area of 880 square kilometer is a part of 5500 km Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. It has been reported than 1.5 lac people live in the peripheri of the park, drawing upon the forest resources for their sustenance. They draw 2.50 lac kgs of firewood everyday and 1.5 lac livestock graze on the forestland, reducing the share of the large Asiatic elephants and other wild herbivores.
‘The rate of degradation has reached such astounding poroportions that it has become impossible for the Park to sustain any longer,’ the concerned persons have written. Through an NGO, Namma Sangha, they have planned to donate LPGs to the people who are depleting the jungle resources, to check the cutting of trees. But Can they check grazing?
This is happening everywhere- a fight between the rightful dwellers of the jungle and the men. Marauding humans rove round the world to plunder whatever is available anywhere. This is happening in the North-East of India, in Kerala, in Sunderban of West Bengal and elsewhere. Much has been said in favour of adivasis, the original residents of the forests, but most of those who plunder the forests now are not the originals residents of the woods, who were considerate of their surrounding nature, on which they were dependents. The position is almost the same elsewhere.
75 per cent of the Russian and Chinese grasslands, the Asiatic steppe, has been degraded over the past 50 years due to adoption of sedentary grazing methods, mixed with arable farming. Mongolian grassland is also threatened for over grazing. The steppes support 30 million livestock. Over grazing is turning Patagonia steppe in Argentina to desert.
If we are too complacent as man about our scientific and technological achievements, if we are too eager to turn everything in nature to our benefit, we may one day lose the bounty of nature. Some day it may be that we will be too thirsty to see a verdant patch of land, to sit or walk over it. Some day it may be that we become too sophisticated humans to forget what is verdure. Ere we lose, let us be grass-minded, wood oriented.
The story of grass we have discussed, from the tallest bamboos to the tiniest green grasses, but the story does not end if we do not remember a man, who was always a humble servant of the divine in his heart, who often carried in his hand a bunch of very light grasses with airy panicles of branching spikelets bearing minute flowers, of green hues changing to maroon (Sporobolus capillaries), to be offered at the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. No, there was no restriction to offer such flowers there during his lifetime. He was bent with age, bent-neck, unique with immaculate white attires, including head cover. But he loved to walk and walk with a smiling face, offering that bunch of grass to anyone, whose birthday he happened to attend. Like many other flowers, receiving new-names for them from the Mother, this tiny grass flower received its spiritual significance from her, Humility.
We often found that grass with flower, here and there, unasked for in our garden and sometimes offered a bunch of it complaisantly to him. He became happy to carry it to the Samadhi. He was Birenda, Biren Palit, who came in his early youth from distant Chittagong (Chattagram), now in Bangladesh and settled in Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry forever, though he sometimes remembered his native place with misty eyes.


Monday, August 24, 2009


A Presence
(Published but not in a book)

An ever-awake presence in every heart
including that of the demon and the desert
in humans and animals in a state rudiment
in the bosom of the hazy and dark inconscient
in the dark cave, a spark of the supreme presence
carries in every matter a spiritual sense;
It is the cause why severe passion and violence
of the vital world, wave of advance of the forces adverse
cannot bring a catastrophe total
a total annihilation with a blow fatal
creating a control somewhere in the deep
causing the face of the harmony to peep
and save the earth from threats diurnal
leading Nature to a state sempiternal.

Sri Aurobindo
(From Aju Mukhopadhyay’s Poems on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother)

‘God shall grow up while the wise men talk and sleep
For man shall not know the coming till its hour
And belief shall be not till the work is done’-
said Sri Aurobindo in his epic poem Savitri.

The voice of truth in the seer poet Sri Aurobindo was heard
As he was a lotus born in mud, away from the mundane scene,
The cascading Supramental light like the golden swan
Touching the sky kept its foot on earth fixed.

Like a tree he was peaceful, unhurried and calm with perseverance
Among the thousand resounding words his existence was silence
In his body sat the God, his face revealed the eternity
Out of intense love for men he sat away from humanity.

Small fries in shallow water and surface-gazers
were lost in the depth of his fathomless water.

February Twenty-first
(From Aju Mukhopadhyay’s Poems on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother)

Under the hush of the early devout hours
An immaculate calm and a mystic silence prevailed:
Silent soft pearl-drop dews
Of grace and love of myriad hues
Were constantly falling from the divine bowers.
Then came the moment when all got drenched
By the heart-blossoming and joy-flowering showers
Of the Divine’s transcendent powers.
The throat and the lips and the tongue
Remained unstirred; not even a whisper was heard.
Yet an unnamed name, a wordless cry
Kept repeating and throbbing in the occult depths of the heart-
Mother Mother
It was to commemorate a divine birth;
A fathomless emotion was blissfully conscious
That it was February twenty-first.

The Death of a Rose
(From In Celebration of Nature)

When the rose was there
Fragrance wafted in the air
Bees were busy at sucking
Traders were going for plucking
Struck by wanton beauty
Rose-lovers stopped the robbery.
But it faded away soon
As if from morning to noon.
As it kissed the ground
Petal by petal, red-pinkish
Without a murmur or sound
Sweet-sodden, lovelorn, nostalgic
The wind became rusty and heavy
They thronged around the body
To silently mourn the crumbling
To wail from suppressed suffering.

Some humans spread more fragrance
After they cross the mortal space.

The Death of a Bird and Hunter
(From In Celebration of Nature)

The weight of the bullet
In the heart of the bird
Became a burden to the sky;
Gravitation pulled
The body of the bird
Sailing in the sky
Flapping in cadence
A beauty it was
Moment before.
From among its folk
A bullet by chance
Singled it out
Still then a family member;
Suddenly pierced
Gasped for breath
Losing all mortal harmony
It fell spirally
Haplessly pushed by the sky
To the very point of
No return
And licked the dust at last.
Running very fast
He stumbled over the bird;
It was a bloody
Painted Stork
Bundle of flesh and blood.
Glancing upward
Murderous hunter
Found the sky very clean,
Pure and vast
But greed and lust
Dwelled in his blood
Pierced his
Treacherous heart.

Colours of the Sky
(From In Celebration of Nature)

Sun was yet to appear at dawn
But its light orange scintillating ray
Circled a portion of the sky: first foray
Flying within it were the crows
A picture framed in the shadowy lawn.
After the daybreak grey changed to blue pure
Blue became bright, clouds became white
Big bright cotton white clouds were shaped
White horses galloped in a race in the azure.
At twilight sky was painted fresh
Deep crimson fading orange pale yellow glowing red
Different decors when Sun was drooping its head
So much colour so much chase, many a different phase
Created by superhuman artistic consciousness.

Insect’s Nest
(Published but not in a book)

When it came and built the frame
on the wall,
briskly I bruised it
by a finger.
Twice it came again
I ignored it then.
Now on the wall it has a shelter
at the back of my computer;
a frail one inch hollow tube
upside open downside closed
clipped to the wall.
It’s a tiny wasp
may be with family it lives;
they come and go.

Ain’t all the great constructions
like insect’s nest
brittle and fragile
sure to go
today or tomorrow
measured by time?
Why bother about any mark made of lime?

The Paper Boat
(From The Paper Boat)

The paper boat
I set adrift
In my childhood
On the flooded road
Of a metropolis
Has just arrived
This rainy evening
At my doorstep
Under full sail
Inviting me
To set out on it
For a nouvelle

What an Age we are Passing through!
(From The Paper Boat)

What an age we are passing through!
What a hodgepodge what limosis what craze!
Best of all the cracies, they say, is democracy
after all, a rule by the people, for the people
but alas, it’s only once that they get the chance,
easily duped by the demagogic, prolixious speech
and the crocodile tears . . .
everything they lose to the politicians
who possess kaleidoscopic characters
verily, the chhaya of the ancient maya;
they change the statute once in the chairs
defying the wisdom of the Nation to suit their purpose
judges cannot undo.
They give anything to anyone, of any denomination
deny our heritage, destroy the land we stand on
to secure their position of power, right to misrule;
no party no group no policy or ideology has any value
if that does not serve them, does not satisfy
their hunger and greed;
rage for industries grow, farmers commit suicide
private contractors for every work throng
merits and wisdom are sacrificed
at the alter of caste and community vote;
newspapers serve many tainted and wrong news
with partisan attitude, features and letters
they publish conform to their views;
climate change and global warming
are the offshoots of mechanical, luxurious living
of the rich and the powerful.
Forgetting all these the youths of the country
Flee to foreign land for money and comfort;
the primitive trade is upbeat
women stand naked before the public
of their own accord,
human trafficking is a part of it.
What an age we are passing through!
Ecology destroyed, disharmony brought to Nature
Man-Animal relation worsened
by killing daily thousands of dumb creatures;
meat and leather industry
are the diabolic face of the humanity.
Gandhiji, a bad politician but great humanitarian,
wished cottage industry, real Panchayet and simplicity
lived on earth with earth on his head and body.
What an age we are passing through!
smile and guffaw, snigger and bravado, choking of voice
lead toward kakistocracy on piscine principle;
clutching each other’s throat with claws and talons
when men will fight to reach the nadir
a gigantic unknown vulture in its turn
will be ready to descend on him;
only then a chance may arise for us to see
a divine ray to rise to save us, free
from the heaps of a doomed democracy
through the real forerunners,
messengers of the God.

What Peace is Like
(Published but not in a book)

Peace is like the early rays of the Sun,
slightly auburn, spreading on the eastern sky.
Peace is like the mild setting Sun, sure of its return,
splashing colours on the western sky.
Peace is like the rising full moon, bright in its orb,
from above the rows of giant palm trees.
Peace is like the resting of the elephants
in a sward before the promised sunrise.
Peace is like the birth of an arc-rainbow
after the gale and copious rain.
Peace is like a sleeping pregnant cat
on top of the hay stacked in a burn.
Peace is like the child’s sucking sound
from the round breast of its mother.
Peace is like the deep silence of the wood
pregnant with promises near.
Peace is like the concurrent rain
spreading across the vale and dale.
Peace is like the trustful pacing of the child
holding his father’s finger top with nail.
Peace is love, Peace is smile
Peace is fragrance of the flower.
Peace is faithful surrender to the Divine
Peace is enchanting shower.
Peace has its last resort away from the earthly bower
in the Nirvanic void;
beyond the domain of science, history or logic
even as it baffles the ideas of Freud.
Peace is love, Peace is smile
Let the true Peace spread
Let this not be fragile.

(c) Aju Mukhopadhyay, 09