Babul of Ghana

I find bright yellow flowers – small woolly balls – spread all over I go – dust tracks, on side of roads, bushes … I am in Ghana with a forester friend, Sunayan Sharma. As we drive through the Park to a have a macro view, I notice trees are decked with bunches of yellow balls. It is clear that this tree species is typical of Ghana. Incidentally, Ghana is known by other names also, Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan). I like the name Ghana as that’s the tradition name of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Talking of name, common name of the tree I am talking about is Babul. From literature, I find ‘the species is Acacia nilotica and it is indigenous to the Indian Sub-continent as also in Tropical Africa, Burma, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and in West and East Sudan. In India, natural babul forests are generally found in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Karnataka.’ All said and done, it is commoner than common trees of India.

Frankly, it does not carry any impressive image in literature. I recollect an old say, quoting my mother who used to say, “Boya paid babul ka to aam kahan say khaye.” That is, ‘if you have sown a babul tree (which is all over thorny) than how can you expect to get mango.’

You may wonder, ‘Then, why I am talking about this tree? What is so great about it?’ That’s valid questions but during my two days in Ghana, I learn the importance of the species and it really amazes me. Yes, that is why, I decide to look at it closely.

We take a walk behind Shanti Kutir, the Forest Rest House in middle of Ghana. The area which used to be a complex of wetlands is now dry. There are no birds – not literally but in the context that it used to swarm with thousands of birds of more than 100 species. It is now grassland-cum-woodland. I notice Babul is conspicuously present all over. I further notice, most of the trees along the dust track are not standing. The stem could not bear the load and most of the trees are lying down of one or two stout branches. This might have been for decades but it has not impacted the growth of the trees in any way! A similarity that comes to my mind is that instead of standing, a man is inclined on a bed sideways, with thick pillow tucked in between an arm and body so that the upper part the body is inclined at an angle to bed.

It’s leisurely walk and no serious birding. Soon it’s twilight. We find a bench facing a patch of grassland. We are tired and it feels better to sit down and remove camera bag weight from shoulder. I have some fixed up stuff in my bag and we chill, as kids say. I am sure we are prefect picture for a postcard of two old, as well as, old friends enjoying a carefree life.  After a while I notice, the forest beyond the grassland is really thick. I ask, “Sunayan Bhai, what’s that.” He replies, “Our same old Babul.” I could not believe babul can stand so tall and thick as well. Mostly, I have noticed, the tree is scattered and ruggedly shaped or rather shapeless.

Sunayan has been the director of Ghana about a decade ago. He knows the forest closely. While discussing the character and usefulness of the species, I find it amazing. In nutshell, ‘It grows in varied soil conditions. It flourishes even in alkaline soils. Even the existence of saline water in the sub-soil is not injurious. It’s almost evergreen. It is a domestic tree and villagers like to plant it around their houses, wells, compounds and in the agricultural fields. Almost every part of the tree finds some use. The tree is highly versatile.’ Furthermore, this tree is largely used in Ghana by several species of birds – egrets, herons, storks… – to develop mass nesting areas, called heronry. OMG! It’s all in one.

Next morning, we visit the core of the core of Ghana – Sapan Mori. It is pronounced as Saapan Mori. Saapan means ‘of Snake’ and Mori means a drain. Here these drains have sluice gates which have been installed in whole area to regulate water in wetland complex. At Sapan Mori too there is one such sluice gate. Probably, here, there is more concentration of water snakes in the channel!

On both sides of the narrow dust track, there is mix of wetlands, marshes, grasslands, swamps. I recollect in good old days, about three and a half decade ago, we used to see few Siberian Cranes here which, alas, is no more so. Now, we do see a pair of Sarus Crane, our domestic crane, which is also our tallest bird. Sarus too is not common these days.

Coming to the subject, there are trees scattered in swamps and wetlands and you will be surprised to know that these too are mostly Babul. They can tolerate partial submergence for some part of the year and get along. The good part is, they are very important for birds – nesting, perching and roosting. Sunayan Bhai adds “inclined trees at the edge of the water are the nesting places for birds like White Breasted Water Hen, Dabchick…”

This can go on but I will like to conclude, Babul, the commoner, is certainly special for Ghana. I am sure, you will agree.

Pushp

Jis roj Diwali hoti hai

Another Diwali is here. It does bring some good change, at least change in season. There is a spirit of festivity, though one is lost in traffic and shopping in cities. Many friends and relatives visit mechanically just to pass on some sweets and/or gift. They are so busy that they do not have time to enjoy.

I share here the flavour of my sweet Diwali.

I do shopping at the time of opening of the shops before the crowd emerges and swarm the market. I even do not use my car to go to market as there are traffic jams and no parking space available. I use e-rickshaw – this is less than half of the car parking charge!

I visit only few relatives and friends but make sure that they are free when I, alone or with Sunita, my wife and sometimes with Himal, my son visit them. It has to be a relaxed chat, sometimes running into hours.

For example, at Kamal’s (my cousin-cum-pal) place we land at 10 pm. Since it is late, I think we will not stay long. It happens to be my dry day as well as Kamal is entirely dry so I suggest, “I can take Neembu Pani”.

Vedica, Varun’s wife prepares wonderful lime-soda, complete with a straw in a tall glass. Relishing. But this turns out to be only the beginning. Soon a tray with four dry fruits arrives, followed by a tray of four sweets and another tray of four namkeens!! This is when the family has already taken dinner!!!

It is fine, sometimes display is required in Indian culture but here Vedica insists that she will prepare everybody’s plate.  I am not even sure if Vedica is filling my plate but foolishly,  I keep saying, “ do not put this … do not put that.” She hands over the plate to my wife first. I continue with my protests while another plate is being filled and end up receiving a plate full of two sweets, two dry fruits and two namkeens, only!

After 45 minutes, we start to rise but Varun says, “Tauji, please. Tea is almost ready and we will enjoy that.” Kamal asks, “What’s the hurry? Do you have some work at home?” I honestly say, “No.” Whole family ask us to just relax and enjoy. And we do relax and enjoy sharing jokes and developments; exchange of family news; reflecting back of fun filled moments spent in past etc.etc.

When we start to rise again around midnight, Varun says “Tauji Chai may maza nahi aaya. Thandi ho gayi thi. Mummy please prepare hot tea.” Another fun and joyful hour.  Laughter and more laughter… That is ‘Happy Diwali’.

I do not like to stress myself at festival time. I have taken leave for Chhoti Diwali. (It’s like Diwali Eve.) Earlier, I used to be on forefront in installing and decorating home with lights, flowers and Diwali specific decoration. Now I like Himal to take lead. I only help and support, if necessary. Generally, it is old stuff which has been used for more than a decade. Every year some stuff becomes useless and some new is added. I like traditional handicrafts and ensure that one or two are added each year.

Diwali puja (prayer) is the climax. There is a set norm on the kind of decoration and layout for the stuff at the place where puja has to be performed at home. Sunita spends hours in setting it up.

We being Jain, puja of all 24 Jain gods with focus on the last one, Mahavir Bhagwan, is the prime one. Of course, Puja of Lakhsmi goddess and Ganesh god is must. We also do puja of our ancestors like that of gods.

In good old days, when there has been no wax candle and electricity, oil lamp has been the way to create light. The lighting of earthen diyas with mustard oil and cotton wick is traditional and we do it without fail. I just love this part most. I wish,

Hey darkness, go away from us

Hey divine light, touch us

Hey man, let us spread brightness

Hey man, let us simply make it Diwali

 

Pushp

PS : On this occasion, I am immensely impressed by

a poem by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and love to share.

 

जब मन में हो मौज बहारों की
चमकाएँ चमक सितारों की,
जब ख़ुशियों के शुभ घेरे हों
तन्हाई  में  भी  मेले  हों,
आनंद की आभा होती है
*उस रोज़ ‘दिवाली’ होती है ।*

जब प्रेम के दीपक जलते हों
सपने जब सच में बदलते हों,
मन में हो मधुरता भावों की
जब लहके फ़सलें चावों की,
उत्साह की आभा होती है
*उस रोज़ दिवाली होती है ।*

जब प्रेम से मीत बुलाते हों
दुश्मन भी गले लगाते हों,
जब कहींं किसी से वैर न हो
सब अपने हों, कोई ग़ैर न हो,
अपनत्व की आभा होती है
*उस रोज़ दिवाली होती है ।*

जब तन-मन-जीवन सज जाएं
सद्-भाव  के बाजे बज जाएं,
महकाए ख़ुशबू ख़ुशियों की
मुस्काएं चंदनिया सुधियों की,
तृप्ति  की  आभा होती  है
*उस रोज़ ‘दिवाली’ होती है .*।               –

–अटलबिहारी वाजपेयी

 

Everest, Antarctica & all that

I have to fly to Indore from Delhi but I am caught in traffic jam to airport even though it’s not peak hour. Delhi’s traffic is unpredictable. I spend quite a few anxious moments. I do say a prayer. Thank god, I am just in time to rush through the process and be among the last to board.

Slightly stressed, I decide to take a short nap. I have a window seat – first row, first seat! It’s too bright outside. I pull down the window shade and soon I am out.

My forester friend, Shashi Malik is with me. As soon as I wake up, he suggests ‘Pull the window shade up.’ I am slightly hesitant. It appears from the corners of the shade that it is quite bright outside. But I oblige. Bright it is but the scene is really interesting. I sit up and notice.

We are flying over a solid white formation of clouds – Quite attractive. I generally do not take photos in plane but here this is compelling.

I have seen many friends commonly posting photos from plane which look like screen shots of Google Earth Satellite maps. Yes, I have seen some photos of clouds also posted.

These days I am flying at least once every month, but hardly take photos. Several times, even if there is good opportunity, delay in pulling out the camera results in the scene passing by! This time it is different. I pull out my new phone and start shooting right away.

Nature is wonderful.  The very first thought is ‘I am on cloud9.’

There is solid white uneven layer of clouds. Is it surface of Moon? Not really.

Bright sun lends snow white texture to the layer. Is it snow? Not really.

There is massive mountain rising out of the layer. Is it Everest? Not really.

And lo, there is a formation as if a river flowing on flat land meets a circular fall? Is it a frozen fall? Not really.

In India, traditionally cotton is spun manually. Raw cotton is filled in a room and massive bow is hung from ceiling and expert spinner works on this. The whole room is all white with balls of cotton which break up into fine cotton with flakes flying all over. Now, we see a layer of cotton spun by nature. Is it cotton? Not really.

Then, there are thin fluffy light clouds flying over the solid white layer which looks like ground? Are we flying only few hundred feet above the ground? Not really.

Clouds are shaped like tips of icebergs in the whitish blue sky. Have we arrived at Antarctica? Not really.

OMG! Looks like clouds are imitating the Hydrogen Bomb testing scene. Are we watching a photo released by North Korea? Not really.

Soon we are descending. There is fast and drastic change in scene. Nearer ground all the cloud formations and Sun is gone. Suddenly we are engulfed in thick fog. It sends a chill down the spine. It feels cold. We are supposed to be insulated from outside weather. Has somebody opened a window of the plane? Not really.

What a transformation as we land – It’s all grey, No sun, no cloud… It’s raining – indeed, that is what the clouds are about.

Pushp