Ecology

Lamenting the loss of Vasant

Today, at about 8 PM, a celestial event of great importance will take place above us. Sun will be passing right above the equator, making it an equinox (equal-night).

Though Sun does this twice a year, March equinox is special, because as per the Gregorian solar calendar, it marks the beginning of spring in Northern hemisphere. But, if you follow Hindu lunar Panchang, with passing of Holi, half of our Vasant are already gone. Vasant, the Indian spring, the king of all seasons, starts on the fifth day of Magha i.e. on Vasant-Panchami and Holi falls right in the middle when Vasant is on its peak.

We, city slickers of modern times, hardly register any of these events. Seasons, for us, are inconveniences that we bear with. But, if we step back in time, especially in literature, we discover that seasons have been central to Indian way of life. And Indian seasons are not linked only with celestial motion of Sun; they celebrate the cycle of life directly.

Our ancestors have woven our festivals around the great dance of life as they saw it being played out in the nature. Though Deepawali is a big day in Indian calendar (because it marks the arrival of a season of plenty), it is Holi that is more dramatic as it can be felt in the air in the Indian Jungle. Its celebration is not restricted to humans, as the entire web of life throbs with romance.

Sanskrit literature is rich with (often unprintable) descriptions of Vasant who is also considered a great friend of Kamadeva, and the most noticeable armament it provides to the cause of Kama is flowers. Also known as Kusumakar – one that causes flowering- Vasant is the season of blooming of our trees.

For an Indian tree living its life in tropics with a clearly defined rainy season, being in sync with nature is extremely essential. Native Indian trees have to be ready with their seeds when the water arrives; so, to keep appointment with rains, they have to force all the life around them to get moving. And, the tool they use to kick start the dance of life is flowers.

There is no surprise that flowers are universal symbols of romance as they have evolved as enticers. Nectar in each flower is a bribe offered to pollinators to spread the good word of procreation, and our trees have taken this game to a new level.

Indian trees face a tricky problem as they need to bloom when the temperatures are dehydrating. Producing flowers is energy-demanding, but having energy-producing leaves simultaneously would also cause a lot of evaporation of precious fluid through leaves. So, the solution evolved by them has, or rather had, given us a dramatically beautiful ecosystem.

When in bloom, many of the native trees shade all their leaves to save water. With all energy focused on flowering, they overwhelm the jungle with fragrance and beauty, former attracting insects and birds, while later attracting humans, especially poets.

Unfortunately for us, even though Indian poets celebrated the glory of our trees, in came British with administrative aspirations and not poetic ones. They saw this hot country and immediately realised that Indian cities required decent law abiding trees that gave shade instead of the dramatic native ones.

The result of this intervention may have given us streets lined up with shade casting aliens, but it took away our Vasant. Indian spring in an Indian city today is almost a colourless affair. There is no palash or pangara or semul painting the town red. There are no bees or birds or fragrance in the air, and obviously no Ritusamhar is likely to get written today.

DNA 27/3/16

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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