Wildbuzz | Basant ki bahar and wheel of life | punjab$regional-takes | Hindustan Times
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Wildbuzz | Basant ki bahar and wheel of life

Nature’s ode to the festival of Basant Panchami and the glimmering of spring is when verses take to wing. None more lyrical than the spectacle of hundreds of butterflies hovering in air or settling on a river’s banks like a bed of wild flowers that has sprung from thin air.

punjab Updated: Feb 05, 2017 13:23 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Butterflies flood a river bank at Aralam.
Butterflies flood a river bank at Aralam.(PHOTO: SUJITH KARAD)

BASANT KI BAHAR

Nature’s ode to the festival of Basant Panchami and the glimmering of spring is when verses take to wing. None more lyrical than the spectacle of hundreds of butterflies hovering in air or settling on a river’s banks like a bed of wild flowers that has sprung from thin air. Male butterflies glean minerals and sodium from soils to offer as nuptial gifts. Even when they congregate in small number and are not the most vividly coloured, their gentle sieving of the soil can be a charming interlude in a jungle’s life. Given that butterfly wings flutter like long eyelashes and reveal like revolving colours of a globe, wildlife photographer Sujith Karad’s recent capture at the Aralam wildlife sanctuary (Kerala) must rank as one of the most dream-like of its genre. One simply falls in love with it!

SHADOWS OF THE MOON

A burrow of porcupines in the jungles of Sukhna lake; and (right) a camera trap image of mating porcupines. (PHOTOS: VIKRAM JIT SINGH / ADITYA JOSHI (WILDLIFE CONSERVATION TRUST))

The Indian crested porcupine (seh) is an enigmatic creature that dwells in the underbelly of the Sukhna Lake’s reserve forests. It is a creature of the night whose presence is marked overground and during daylight by broken/discarded quills. The porcupine is one of the largest rodents of Asia and adults can reach 18kg. Many myths surround this mammal, such as the belief that it “fires quills like arrows” at adversaries. The fact is that porcupines reverse into predators and plunge their quills, leading to deaths of tigers and leopards as lungs, liver, etc, get punctured.

The Sukhna’s forests have a good number of porcupine burrows identified by the foul smell of occupation, an arched entrance, excavated earth and a number of escape hatches in the vicinity. Forest guards on patrol see a number of them on moonlit nights. The Rock python uses abandoned porcupine burrows for hibernation and laying eggs though anecdotal evidence gleaned from porcupine poachers suggests that pythons may even be cohabiting with porcupines since they do not prey on each other.

Porcupine burrows are fascinating, with records of some going 18 m in length, five feet deep and having separate chambers for excreta and family life. Since porcupine meat is a great delicacy for tribal hunters and thought to be imbued with medicinal values, poachers go to great lengths to ferret out porcupines. Burrows are dug systematically by inserting long bamboo reeds to gauge the turns and twists in tunnels and chambers. When the porcupine family is finally cornered in the main chamber, a poacher will crawl into the burrow and push a stone ahead of him to ward off attacks. The cunning poacher will then insert a spear from the stone’s sides to kill big specimens.

Porcupines are considered pests as they debark plantation trees, eat basal portion of stems and damage roots. However, their natural diet comprises grains, fruits, roots, vegetation, etc. They gnaw at bones and discarded deer antlers to take in calcium/lime for growth of quills. These are hollow and constitute a specialised, evolutionary modification of fur into a spiny covering. Porcupines are survivors, harbouring a keen sense of smell and agile at avoiding traps. So, the next time you pick a lonely, discarded quill on a jungle walk, think it as the tip of a wondrous life that throbs deep below your feet!

WHEEL OF LIFE

Kalawati’s painting of fish going round and round; and (right) painting of anthill by Minakshi. (PHOTOS: VIKRAM JIT SINGH)

Round and round goes earth, like an apple whirling silently in space, ensuring that the sun is always around to sustain life! Were earth’s velocity to increase dramatically or the planet to take a hit from a heavenly body leading to zero velocity, it will plunge off the cosmic cliffs to annihilation. But as long as the going’s good, why not celebrate the rotations that throb with life.

At the ongoing workshop of tribal/folk painters hosted by the Punjab Kala Bhawan, Warli artist, Minakshi Vayeeler (49), depicts inner life in the anthills of her village in Palghar (Maharashtra). The ants move in concentric circles, like wheels within wheels, with a pair of Spectacled cobras occupying the anthill’s centre. The anthill is surrounded by worshippers of Nag Panchami. Minakshi was fascinated by the battle order of ants marching into her kitchen in a disciplined line, and later she chanced upon a crumbling ant hill that revealed the merry-go-round barracks of her little soldiers. A greenish backdrop sets her painting apart from the more ‘brownish’ Warli paintings as she used a pigment derived from the dung of monsoons, which acquires a watery, greenish tinge from cows ruminating on fresh grasses.

Kalawati Shyam (48), is a Gond tribal from Dindori in Madhya Pradesh’s Patangarh district. Like Minakshi, she learnt her art when entering her teens. Her entire family, including kids and husband, make Gond paintings and sell them, especially to foreign tourists, in Bhopal. Her painting of fish going round and round will find reflection not only in cosmic harmony but in the life of big carps at Sukhna Lake, which can be observed chasing each other in circles and frolicking in splashes that startle the ordinary ripples. Kalawati enjoys eating fish and her inspiration for fish paintings comes from the fish market and memories of her tribe spearing fish! “I do get troubled at this ‘eat and art’ but then my hand moves to the brush, and the dead fish I have consumed come alive,” she told this writer.

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