Every time I drive out of Mullanpur towards the Shivaliks, I am left astounded by the quality of New Chandigarh’s highways. But when entering the villages nestling in the hills’ shadows, a convoy of outgoing trucks slows down the passage. The trundling trucks engulf commuters with clouds of dust escaping from mounds of earth they are transporting to facilitate construction of New Chandigarh’s roads, buildings, landscapes and other structures. That spoor of dust leads you deeper into the countryside to undulating, unruly plains rising to the Shivalik peaks. These sub-montane tracts lie mortally wounded because of cavernous pits from where that earth has been dug. Bushes and trees uprooted. Homes and nests of native animals/birds bulldozed like illegal shanties. To state the obvious, these monstrous pits have come up in violation of forest and land preservation laws.
Indeed, urbanisation and its attendant, oft-concealed ecological drag is a universal theme. On February 9, I went across to Tagore theatre to view a Swiss puppet show, ‘Behind my House’, a production of Le Guignol à roulettes. It promised a novel form of environment messaging but was cancelled at the last minute. I was most intrigued by the plot, which had been circulated to the media beforehand: ‘’A funny and educative glove puppet performance aimed at communicating to children a message about the gift of nature and how to appreciate greenery. As beautiful gardens filled with flowers disappear and the ugly city grows, thanks to the wicked Governor of the Grey City, the show’s hero, Boniface, tries to stop the workmen with hilarious results. Madam Paulette then prepares her secret weapon, a mug of hot chocolate! Will she be able to stop them in time from destroying everything?’’
I was curious to get to the bottom of this cancelled show and know what had inspired its creators, Dora Cantero and Pierre-Alain Rolle, who are based in Fribourg, Switzerland. By the time I was able to contact Rolle through the good offices of the Swiss Art Council in Geneva, he was at the airport embarking for Cuba to stage a ‘’complicated’’ puppetry series. But he very kindly answered my queries in the limited time available to him.
Rolle explained that ‘Behind my House’ was inspired during an earlier visit to Shanghai with a young puppetry student of his. ‘’From Shanghai, we went to a very small garden in the middle of highways. An old man was working there with his woman and the garden was very lovely. The couple slept in the garden when the weather was good,’’ said Rolle.
The proximity of urban structures such as highways and the seemingly out of place garden sparked the inspiration for what would eventually turn out to be ‘Behind my House’. The gardener, and the care with which he tended flowers, was in stark contrast to the grey, impersonal concrete world closing in on that isle of blooms and greenery.
Rolle’s message in ‘Behind my House’ is primarily for children, who will inherit a ravaged earth and upon whom will fall the burden of finding solutions. ‘’Ecology is a universal theme. There is no limit to the age groups that are addressed in our puppet shows. The audience should enjoy the show, so fun is the most important factor. However, as in every fairy tale, there is also a moral that children should deal with. In this case, the message is about nature and cities. Children will have to solve,’’ said Rolle.
HAPPY HOLI HONEY BEE
Honey bees and pollen, you may have seen a thousand times but this one seems to be playing a water-free Holi! The bee drenched with pollen grains of a Dahlia and in a seeming stupor was clicked in the garden of a Patiala house. And that, too, with nothing more sophisticated than a cell phone. A staff nurse at the Rajendra Hospital, Seema Dhiman’s budding interest in nature photography has been largely self-taught and aided by a sharp eye that captures expression and evinces a storyline. Her passion, which may have never bloomed in the old days, has been facilitated by the internet, social media and digitalised photography. She aptly captioned her drenched bee picture: ‘’Rang de, rang de, mujhe apne hi rang mein tu rang de...’’
Seema wanted to freeze every moment in the growth of her toddler son. So, she bought a simple point & shoot camera and also took to clicking insects and blooms in her garden. Then came an affinity for nature photography, an indulgence she never had any time for during her youthful years absorbed in studies. Encouraged by the images her sharp eye was able to extract from a simple camera and cell phone, Seema bought a Nikon DSLR camera body. Tutorials on YouTube facilitated basic learning in handling sophisticated cameras while comments and generous advice from senior photographers on social media platforms encouraged her and sharpened her skills.
Talented amateurs like her expand exponentially the ticket-free, digitalised museum of humanity’s collective memory. Their roving eye gets to chronicle so many more of nature’s humble denizens eking out their lives in every nook and cranny.