An ill-effect of a prolonged winter and unusual rains has been that the Flame of the Forest tree has not come into bloom in its strongholds such as the Siswan jungles. When in bloom, its petals liken to low flames bunching, crackling and flickering on bare boughs, and hold the augury of summer’s smoulder.
On the ground below, sprawls an orange, simmering squelch of fallen flowers relished by wild animals. Last year, this tree, which is celebrated by diverse Indian cultures, was in profuse bloom by the end of March.
Flowers would attract babblers, sunbirds, parakeets and bees to nectar, and, in turn, these winged allies assisted in shipping pollen. But even in this second week of April, dour green-grey leaves continue to coat the ash-coloured boughs in a sullen guardianship. The red beak of the Rose-ringed parakeet, as it dips deep for nectar, acutely resembles the curvature and colour of these flowers.
Flame of the Forest tree; (Photo: Anand Krishna Dikshit)
The parakeet is the mythical vehicle or ‘vahaan’ of Lord Kama. Hindu mythology also compares these blooms to the nails of Lord Kama, the God of Love, which tear at the hearts of young lovers. So, it is as if the tree’s old flames, the birds and bees, are clamouring: “Bosom fast, O dour boughs, Free the raging passions, Torment us no more, With ash and coy April”.
One thinks that frogs normally croak around the monsoons. But I heard them croon on a cold February night in a puddle under a mango tree at Kasauli village, which lies in the Shiwalik foothills, about 20 km from Chandigarh.
I kept hearing these ‘ugly, flabby fellas’ in my odysseys through the countryside, but nothing really matched their acoustic exuberance late this Thursday night, when I was exploring the far side of Siswan dam’s jungles. How do I describe that grand orchestration? At one level, imagine that several grannies and grandpas were snoring in perfect unison after partaking of a hearty Punjabi meal they would have better avoided! Or, purdah aunties indulging in ceaseless tongue-clicking over wayward nieces! That would evoke the auditory imagination of the Siswan frogs.
Frog calls are normally applied in derision to those humans whose vocal chords seemingly evoke a guttural, croaking sound. But to me, these were the songs of joy from the proverbial gutter, nature’s very own rendition of the Mozartean ‘Exsultate, jublilate’. If heard with an unbiased ear, the croaks had such a perfect rhythm, such even-tempered notes as of a master pianist. It was indeed ‘Concert Hour’ at Siswan.
As daylight was ushered out, and darkness seeped in star by star, moon ray by moon ray, the celestial chandeliers lit up the concert hall for the frogs’ arias. It had taken millions of light years for the twinkle of stars to reach and lend a tender blush to Siswan’s waters. Here I was, a spectator to a unification, a grand harmony with the cosmos.
But my imagination’s fancies apart, I asked the BNHS’s senior scientist, Varad Giri, as to why frogs croak? His reply, “Frogs call for attracting females and to ward off other males. There is a distress call, too, when they are attacked by the enemy. There are certain frogs which breed in large groups and are known to give calls when they see a good breeding ground.”
OUT OF RED ZONE?
The endangered Egyptian vulture and the critically-endangered Red-headed vulture are likely to have benefited from the ban since 2006 on the veterinary use of diclofenac. A recent study published in the ‘Bird Conservation Journal’ by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) states that the declines in these species slowed down after 2006, and their numbers may even have increased.
The study states that these two species were possibly affected by diclofenac ingestion in cattle carcasses; though the study does not cite any direct evidence for this. It relies instead on the indirect inferences of a common ancestry of these two species with the diclofenac-hit Gyps vultures and an overlapping diet with the Gyps.
A Red-headed vulture; (Photo courtesy: BNHS)
The study further cautions by stating that its positive assessments of populations are based on surveys of a small number of sites, and that the numbers of each of these two species encountered were also small. Interestingly, the BNHS and the RSPB have come a full circle.
In the initial years of the vulture catastrophe, the two NGOs swore by the virus theory without citing any scientific evidence. In 2004, they very reluctantly adopted the diclofenac theory for the Gyps species, which had a wealth of scientific evidence to back it. Now, they embrace the diclofenac theory for these two non-Gyps species without any direct scientific evidence.