Earth Sublime

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Of stolen plums and hard beatings

It’s been decades since I came across the Indian plum tree (Ziziphus jujuba, Kannada name name - ecche, elzhache, bor`e). Sadly, like many other trees, this tree has almost vanished from my town for some time now. Very few trees are found even in the nearby villages surrounding my town. Thanks mainly to the tobacco growers and tree cutting contractors for they spare no trees.

Some trees revive forgotten memories of  school days. For instance during intervals/after school, we used to get attracted by the ripe (red colored) or even partially ripe (green) fruits sold mostly by old women from villages . These women collect fruits in the morning, spread them on a gunny bag, sitting under a shady tree along the road to schools. Then they sell it to school children after sprinkling on them a mixture of salt and chilly powder. Every one relished this fruit - a mouth watering taste indeed.

However, rather than spend money to taste these yum berries, it was more fun when we expended our energies to be able to get our hands on them. It proved to be a favourite pastime of ours as well. The backyards of the houses of the road adjoining ours boasted many of these trees. Sundays and other holidays (we had to cut or make a way through the tall and thick milk hedges to reach the plum tree) were spent under this tree, throwing stones or shaking the tree branches and collecting the fallen fruits. Sometimes, the owner of the tree would materialize silently from some place and then try to catch one of us and give a sound thrashing courtesy the branch/twig of a small tree. The stones we threw would sometimes damage the thatched roofs.

On international demand for Tobacco leaves and its impact on the lifespan of native trees

During my birding & tree sighting trips in rural areas of Mysore district, Karnataka, I sometimes try to discover as well as photograph old and `heritage' trees. Soon, I found it tough to sight trees and realized there are hardly any trees which are more than 20 years old, other than those found near temples, railway stations, various government premises and private farms. And we have somebody to lay the blame upon - the tobacco growers and contractors who for they spare no trees. They buy all kinds of trees from villagers, growing anywhere - in the open fields, farms, canals, river edges, schools and even trees growing by the road side. Flowering or fruiting tree nothing, every tree is targetted. Last year I saw people pushing a cut tree across the canal. On  close inspection it turned out to be the same Basari tree (Ficus Virens) on which the tawny eagles were  nesting  in the tree crown  every summer and fromr the last 3 years.   Some of them are indegenous and some are becoming rare -Goni-Mysore fig (Ficus Mysorensis), Basari (Ficus Virens), Ala - Banyan, Atti, Jagala ganti (Diospyros cordifolia), Tapsi (Holoptela integrifolia), Mal`al`i, Arjuna (Terminalia Arjuna) ..... .  The wood logs are later taken to where tobacco is auctioned in neigbouring places and districts to be burnt in kilns which become dry tobacco leaves.

With international demand for the locally grown tobacco (FCV – Flue cured Virginia, Mysore tobacco) leaves increasing and prices soaring from Rs. 48/kg (year 2006) to Rs 95/- (year 2009) and upto Rs. 150/kg this year (2010), there is less chance for trees to inhabit the earth. Again, it’s common knowledge that once tobacco plants are grown in agricultural fields for a couple of years, the land loses its ability to grow other crops.

On the other hand, the demands of civilization makes the the Govt. to take up massive projects like road widening, highways and bridges which in my town have made countless age old roadside trees to be cut down and left with no trace of its existence.

The nursery run by the forest department is a good initiative which distributes saplings to all and sundry. However, indigenous trees like the  Mysore fig (Ficus Mysorensis), Indian Plum tree , for instance do not find place in the nursery and it showcases the growing unconcern on the part of the government. Sometimes I wonder if the native trees have lost their rights to completing their full life span. And the needle of suspicion rests on the one species we are all too familiar with - the homo sapiens.

Mysore dist