A few months ago, I happened to wake up early as my ceiling fan rebelled following a power failure. The clock was struggling to strike seven. I set off for a morning walk through the village roads.
It was indeed spectacular to watch the morning sun showering fresh yellow rays over blossomed figs and ficus. Kanikkonna (Cassia Fistula) trees bent with flower-load, paving a happy-yellow rug on the road. Cuckoos cooed and crickets stridulated against the sunshine. It was a wonderful warm morning which reminded me of the last Vishu season. But sadly, it was still half-way through December.
“No, no Konnappoo this year,” Kalyani returned her customer empty-handed. “How would I blame Konna? Nature mistook winter as summer. I suggest Vishu be advanced,” she whispered shoving flees from the rest of jasmine and marigold garlands.
This is not just the case of Kalyani, most flower vendors in Thrippunithura junction would respond the same way if you ask for a bunch of Konnappoo.
Another Vishu is at our doorstep and Kerala is rushing to fancy/decor shops to get their bunch of Chinese fiber Konnappoo so that they could put an end to the annual hurry-burry in search of this seasonal blossom.
“Stress is one factor that induces early flowering in plants,” says P.O. Nameer, head of the department at College of Forestry (CoF), Kerala. It has two aspects, thermoperiodism and photoperiodism.
These are simply the variations of temperature and light in a short span of 24 hours. Studies suggest that a considerable fall or rise in heat or light could put a plant to stress, inducing early flowering in it, he adds.
Well, this points finger to the instability of our ecology. While a persistent change in the nature could initiate mutations, sudden unexpected changes put nature under pressure. This very change in the flowering behavior has been exhibited by many other plants too but Konna gets easily noticed as it is one most sought-after seasonal blossom.
Nameer says that early flowering and atmospheric changes are relevant but unexplored realms of research and that more studies in this sphere could throw light on many such ecological changes. The Indian cuckoo, popularly known as 'Vishupakshi,' has a bunch of proverbs about its call.
It calls out children enjoying their summer vacation to check if the jackfruits are mature enough. 'Chakkakkuppundo' (Does the jack fruit taste salty?), 'Kallan Chakkettu' (A thief plucked the jackfruit), 'Achhan Kombath' (Father is still atop the branch) etc are some very popular vacation rhymes of Kerala, all composed along the call of the Indian cuckoo.
April-May is the time of jackfruit in Kerala which coincides with the breeding season of this endemic bird species. But lately, there are changes in the pattern of bird movement inside and across the Kerala coast. Dry-land and desert birds flock in large numbers to the forests and fields of Kerala, an indication of impending drought.
“We have been watching birds in Kerala for almost two decades now,” says Nameer adding, “I should say that there is an alarming increase in the number of dry-land birds calling upon our terrain.” Birds like Stonechat (Saxicola Maurus), Sandgrouse and Desert wheater are some some birds which migrate to deserts and acute dry-lands.
Unfortunately, these birds have started flocking to the fields and grasslands of Kerala in the past few years, he says. We should make a serious note of this. This change is a pointer to the transformation of our green lands to barren drylands. Dip in the ground water level, increasing atmospheric heat and loss of humidity add to this.
Increasing man-animal conflict is another concern this summer. Availability of food-crops and water in irrigated land, qualitative depletion of forest resources and the resultant unavailability of water and other life-sustaining items up the hills attract wild animals towards human settlements, bringing about grave conflicts.
Though barbed electric fences, bunds and traps could make effective temporary solutions, there is an inevitable need to restore the resources of nature. “Being non-offensive is the first part. Then comes restoration,” says Nameer. We need to put an end to the numerous intentional and unintentional harm the human race is doing to nature. It encompasses all sound, light, air and water pollution caused due to our indulgent and luxurious lives.
Here arises the need for a nature-friendly Vishu. It is a season of temple/church festivals and the fuming hot summer of Kerala is added up with the heat and smoke from bursting of crackers and large-scale fire works.
The sound of vehicles from busy roads and the parallel performance of traditional festival bands (Chendamelam) often run in tandem with the deafeningly explosive sounds of fireworks. Petroleum smoke from vehicles, fumes from the crackers and natural heat blend up to make this one of the most dreaded seasons of air pollution.
Well, here is one least acknowledged fact: summer in Kerala is one terrible season for nocturnal birds and animals. High road kills, electrocutions, and natural deaths of nocturnal animals are reported during this season. They die of unexpected sudden explosions, burns, burnt nests and habitats and hunting.
Even domestic animals like dogs, cats and cattle are stressed due to high-decibel explosions. A nature-friendly Vishu should be inclusive of the joy and prosperity of our fellow living things. When the nature calls for a helping hand, is it conscientious to go by harmful luxuries?