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Wild buzz: An inferno of demons

The soot and smoke of the burning ‘kana’ was hurled high and whirling in the air like an imploding Ravana with popcorn-like bursting sounds. The towering inferno was visible and audible from a distance in the thick jungle.

punjab Updated: Mar 04, 2018 12:27 IST
Wild buzz,Wild grasses,wildlife
Fire dance of ‘Kana’ grasses in a jungle.(PHOTO: VIKRAM JIT SINGH )

Wild grasses of ‘kana’ or ‘kahi’ (Saccharum spontaneum) appear rather docile, until the tongues of flames slither into a rainless spell of the jungle. These are grasses whose stalk cuttings prop up spineless sweet peas in bungalow gardens. When humble ‘kana’ burns in the jungle, it does so with the ferocity of an aflame ammo dump. The accompaniment of sounds to a ‘kana’ inferno are strange because they recall to mind long queues and bubbly bursts at the popular popcorn booth of Sector 17 Plaza!

Such a jungle fire was observed by this writer in the Shivalik ravines of village Chhoti-Baddi Nagal, 15 km from Chandigarh. The soot and smoke of the burning ‘kana’ was hurled high and whirling in the air like an imploding Ravana with popcorn-like bursting sounds. The towering inferno was visible and audible from a distance in the thick jungle.

Intrigued by the incendiary quality of ‘kana’, I took a sampling of burnt stalks for examination by SP Khullar, the former head of botany department, Panjab University. “Saccharum is a genus of large grasses of the Old World tropics resembling reeds and having expanded panicles with very small paired spikelets intermixed with numerous silky hairs. The giant grass that gives most of the world its source of sugar, sugarcane (saccharum officinarum), is a hybrid resulting from crossing of six different species of saccharum. This means that wild saccharum spontaneum or wild sugarcane contains small quantities of combustible sugar,” said Khullar.

“The pop corn sounds and fierce burning of ‘kana’ was probably due to sugar particles contained in the tissues being released due to high temperature caused by jungle fire. Sugar combustion leads to production of gases/vapours within the encasing of ‘kana’ stalks. The escape of gases in a violent manner from the hard encasing leads to loud bursting of tissue,” added Dr Khullar.

Eye of the Sukhna

A carp with eye gouged out by House crows. (PHOTO: VIKRAM JIT SINGH )

When one observes a dead fish on the shores of the Sukhna lake with eyes missing, it is most likely that House crows have been the snatchers. Observing crows pick on fish through a pair of binoculars is instructive on crow hierarchy and eating technique. The eyes are gouged out first because they are the softest parts. Crows then shove bills down the fish’s mouth and also lift the fold of gills to draw out shards of white, nutritious flesh. However, younger crows with smaller bills face a hurdle when it comes to piercing main body parts layered with tough scales. Enter, large adult crows with big bills. After driving away the younger, inexperienced crows, the adult pierces the scales with a powerful penetration of the bill and extracts belly flesh. Younger crows bide their time by squawking on the sidelines till the adult has had his/her fill. After that, younger crows exploit the openings created in scales and salvage what remains of the fish.

Think a sculpture

‘Quietude’ on display at Punjab Kala Bhawan. (PHOTO: AMRITA)

Graphic designer Amrita prefers minimalism when it comes to the admiration and contemplation of nature. So, she may not think much of a Silk Cotton (Semul) tree looming over the jungle and laden with lush emerald blooms. Her eye would wander instead to the peculiar spikes sprouting from the trunk and the ‘map-like’ etchings of time that go unnoticed on the bark.

On a rambling drive across Morni hills, the city-based designer’s quest took her off-road. Daughter of the well-known photographer and artist, Surinder M Dhami, her keen eye was besotted with a stream tumbling under the bridge. A few hundreds yards down the gorge and she came across a boulder in the stream, which was rendered distinct by a curious chiseling effect of erosion and weathering and embellished with streaks of bird droppings. The boulder braved the currents nibbling at its stony ramparts with calm, grace and generosity. Nature’s aesthetics were at work here on a geological sculpture-in-the-making, an art work on a scale that had no beginning in time and would possibly have no end.

“The etchings, lines, boulder shape, designs, the solitary profile created an image in my mind of a lady, sitting alone and thinking. I photographed that boulder and titled it, ‘Quietude’,” Amrita told this writer. The photograph was on display last week at the annual art exhibition of the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi. Pushed to a corner display by more ‘obvious’ works of art and ‘lushness’ of creative expressions, the starkness of ‘Quietude’ held its own with distinction and without so much as an accompanying murmur.

vjswild1@gmail.com

First Published: Mar 04, 2018 12:27 IST