Sharing natural acts of kindness and inclusion
- Across the road lies the Kanteerava Sports Stadium. This area used to be the home of the Sampangi lake, one of Bengaluru;s largest water bodies.
In the heart of Cubbon Park, in the middle of the former British Cantonment, is a seemingly incongruous structure. A sacred ashwath katte, a platform with gigantic Ficus and neem trees. Worshippers from across the city come daily, to pray to these trees. In the mornings, water and grain is kept out by volunteers to feed the birds. The grain is provided by grain merchants, old families that have lived in the city for generations. People come here in the evening to eat – meals are provided free, again based on collections from residents – acts of charity, which are also acts of worship, of gratitude to these trees. Pigeons eat grains, but other birds eat meat. The priest also feeds the kites, the Garudas, throwing pieces of meat into the air as they swoop down deftly.
Across the road lies the Kanteerava Sports Stadium. This area used to be the home of the Sampangi lake, one of Bengaluru;s largest water bodies. The Vahnikula Kshatriya or Thigala community start their iconic Karaga festivities here, and the Karaga pot is traditionally made from the clay of the uppu neerina kunte in Cubbon park, close to the giant ashwath katte. The Karaga is one of Bengaluru’s oldest festivals, and hundreds of thousands of people congregate to view the procession as it makes its way across the city. But the lake is now gone, converted into a symbol of prestige – the site of major sports events for Bengaluru.
All that is left is a tiny pond, surrounded by a fence. The lake once supported the livelihoods of hundreds, and fed thousands more – the grazers who grazed their cattle in the wetlands, and the people who drank the pure organic milk; the fisherfolk or Bestaru who plied their boats in the lake, and the customers who bought the fish, feeding their families; and the dhobis who washed clothes in the lake – clothes that came from miles around.
The Vahnikula community still fish here, but only for local consumption. They still share, even though their share has dwindled to almost nothing. As a man fishes, a kite swoops down from the sky, with its familiar keening keeeeyuuuh call. He tosses a fish to the kite – it swoops down to eat. Adu ondu jeeva, he says – this is also a life. If I can eat, so should it.
Just outside the katte, near an ant hill, a man comes by with a small bottle of milk, sweetened with sugar. He pours it out carefully, at the base of the ant hill, to feed the ants.
A woman with a small child in tow circumambulates another sacred Ficus tree. She stops every few steps, and carefully places a piece of dry fruit, a banana, a lump of rock sugar, at the base of the tree. Offerings to the tree, to be consumed later by the squirrels, monkeys, dogs and other curious denizens of this urban forest.
No one should go hungry. In the heart of the city. In everyday conversations, you will find simple acts of kindness and inclusion. They cleanse the heart of a city that seems to be becoming ever more fragmented and hate-filled.
(Harini Nagendra is a professor of sustainability at Azim Premji University, and the author of Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present and Future and Cities and Canopies: Trees of Indian Cities.)
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