NECTAR’S PINK SHRINE
The Shivalik foothills in spring tend to be dominated by silk cotton trees (Semul). The tree towers over other flora, which are still seeking relief from winter’s tawny hues, and its vivid blooms on a high pedestal, are not easy to outshine. The blooms, of a size that can fill a cupped hand, grace the tall, slender-necked and stately Semul like a queen adorned in nothing but an abundance of rubies. It was, therefore, a welcome distraction to come across a lone flowering shrub of a decidedly different persuasion. It was all grace and poise while rooted on a steep slope. The shrub was dwarfish and its structure unremarkable but it more than made up with a mop of the most delicate, candy pink blossoms.
I procured a cutting of this shrub from the jungles of Kahianwala hamlet, 20km from Chandigarh, and handed it over to Dr SP Khullar, a former head of botany department at PU. After poring over it for two days, the diligent Dr Khullar told me, ‘’I identify this plant as Indigofera pulchella. It belongs to the same genus which gives indigo (Neel), the substance used for brightening clothes after washing. I would distinguish it from Indigo heterantha as the latter flowers in April onwards but otherwise looks similar,’’ said Dr Khullar.
From the famed group of botanists, efloraofindia, Dr Nidhan Singh (assistant professor, IB Post Graduate College, Panipat), shed further light, ‘’This shrub is not very common in the area (Shivaliks). However, ‘Neel’ production from natural sources has largely been replaced by synthetic chemicals. These two species (I. pulchella and I. heterantha) are not being used for Neel extraction as they yield small quantities and that, too, of inferior quality, and thus not worth commercialising.’’
A farmer from Kahianwala, Balbir Singh, had seen this writer carrying the cutting of pink blooms and was very intrigued at the spectacle. After offering a glass of jaggery tea, he very kindly informed that this shrub was locally known as ‘Makhi’ because of the merry buzz of honey bees and tiny insects that attend the pink blooms like pilgrims at nectar’s shrine.
A TREE OF SECRETS
Award-winning painter Rajinder Kaur Pasricha’s works, drawing from Phulkari motifs and such eclipsed repositories of rural life as the ‘Bohrr’ tree (Ficus benghalensis), come as a breath of fresh air. Pasricha, a former principal and head of fine arts, Government College for Girls, Patiala, discerns in nature the manifestations of divinity. She deploys such soothing colours, mesmerising blends and fine execution that her paintings are lent an aura of mystique and beauty. She was most recently bestowed the title, ‘Artist of the Year 2017’ by ‘WE’ - a group of Indian Contemporary Women Artists, Chandigarh, mentored by Sadhna Sangar. WE’s exhibition at Punjab Kala Bhawan last week showcased 65 works from India and even Korea.
In her startling work titled, ‘Waiting’, Pasricha shows an unlettered lady of the village crossing notches on a wall. The crosses represent the days that are reducing for the return of her husband, who has gone abroad. A house crow sitting on the wall adds a glow to her happy face. In village life, a crow’s call is taken as an augury of the return of a beloved one or a guest’s arrival.
In her painting of a ‘Bohrr’ tree, which is worshiped in villages, Pasricha draws on Phulkari motifs to lend originality to the aesthetics. Titled, ‘My Phulkari’, it depicts Pasricha’s fascination at unlettered women drawing inspiration from mother nature to create works of embroidery. Her painting is replete with the slender creepers and birds of Phulkari, and the tree itself is known as ‘Baba Bohrr’ because it is witness to the joys and sorrows of generations. So many of the village have sat under a ‘Bohrr’, undertaken diverse activities and talked their secrets and hearts out. ‘Baba Bohrr’ has heard all of these, and the sagely tree is not only a silent witness to history’s passage but enjoys the status of a trusted confidant.
A kite relieved of its string may surge high and free on strong winds, and then drop dead for roving kids to scavenge. In the wake of freedom’s momentary soar is left hundreds of yards of string that entangles in trees and traps birds. Some birds get so entwined in orphaned string that it robs them of flight while others are brutally sliced as if hacked by an apprentice at butchery. The main culprit is Chinese manjha coated in powdered glass. While manjha ruthlessly cuts rival strings in kite-flying contests, the taut string, its remnants littering the environment and free-falling from the sky has also claimed human lives. Though some administrations have imposed a ban on Chinese manjha and its harmful effects are well known, kite flyers persist with this ‘sky hangman’s long noose’ in utter contempt of human/avian life.