Thursday, November 15, 2007

FIG-uratively speaking!

Talk about figs, and the most common association that springs to mind is the proverbial fig leaf, our ancestral lingerie. In the bird world, however, figs are the manna that enthrall and enchant. Plant a fig in your backyard, and you invite, by default, a large cross-section of the avian world to your domain. Frugivorous (fruit-eating) birds are drawn to them like a magnet, and several species of birds descend on these trees in fruiting season, resembling hungry guests at a banquet. While in their feeding frenzy, you could tickle their toes, and they wouldn’t notice. Compared to the gusto with which these wild figs are dispatched, our cultivated ‘anjeer’ seems like a bland also-ran.

On our recent trip to the Pench National Park near Nagpur, we were fortunate to come upon a wild fig in full fruiting glory, and the tree was laden with figgin’ Coppersmiths!

A brown-headed Barbet and a red-vented Bulbul joined in the revelry, and we were subjected to unhindered avian gluttony
Is it any wonder, then, that our wise forefathers (where are they?!) revered these fig trees and worshipped them? The banyan and the peepul still stand unharmed amidst the general tree-genocide that humans perpetrate on a daily basis, which makes me think: Can we find, in our religious texts, a tangible link to protecting our forests and their denizens? Maybe that’s the only hope for our conservation efforts, as man seems more susceptible to the fear of the hereafter, today be damned!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Tigress and 2000 humans

Two front page articles in HT on 2nd November appeared side-by-side: one about the tigress in Maharashtra's Chandrapur District, who has allegedly killed 7 people, and is now on death row, and the other about the fight for justice by the Godhra victims. The inference - kill 2000 people, and go scot free, or at worst, land up with a life-sentence, which can still be appealed against. You killed on ideological grounds, you killed with official connivance, you killed in retaliation.
The hapless tigress killed because she was hungry, she killed to feed her cubs, she killed humans as they had felled the forests where her prey roamed. In the new order of things, her guardians are the Forest Department. What is their response? Shoot her at sight, says the Wildlife Warden. He is impotent against the pillage of forests, he is impotent against the blatant encroachment of forest land, he is impotent against poachers and those who poison the animals. So, how does he regain his manhood? Easy - do what the Brit officers did during the Raj to feel powerful - shoot a tiger, or a bunch of them, or better still a tigress. What better way to gain the accolades of land grabbers, the timber mafia, the poisoners and the poachers?