A Tribute To Nature

A Forest Episode

Debasish Paul

How much tears you have dropped that you say you are in love?
If you do not bleed your feet on the barbs in the way, how you can arrive here?
(A Manna Dey song lyric)

Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay, was the eminent Bengalee writer whose novels inspired famous Apu Trilogy of globally respected film director Late Satyajit Ray. The prolific author among his many works wrote a novel titled 'Aranyak' (A Forest Episode). This epoch making novel by virtue of its literary flavour has earned the status of modern classic as well a favourite book for all and sundry readers in Bengali. It made a stunningly vivid observation of rich forest beauty vs chill penury of the sons of the soil i.e. forest tribes. But despite being written in first person style of story telling, the writer in its brief prologue had written that it was not based on his own experience nor it is a diary. Only option for readers is to consider that it was a product of sincere research.

The professionally school teacher Bibhutibhusan had in-depth study of books of Geography scanning India and foreign countries. It enabled him to write several Bengalee youth adventures in deep forests of not only India but far away in Africa. His novel on adventure in other continental forest of Africa titled 'Chander Pahar'(Moon Mountain) is still a hot favourite so much so that a recent big budget movie of same name have been produced drawing massive response from even present generation cinema goers. Long before the easy access to Internet, truly committed writers took pains of data collection with noble mission of instilling adventure spirit on youth in colonial India. Courage is forever foremost quality among the human being driving him to take up challenges of life every time and everywhere. Adventure books are source of courage more so it was a felt need in India to drive out British colonial rulers by freedom movement in particular when it was armed revolution considered as better option in Bengal from Khudirarn Bose to Subhash Chandra Bose in order to challenge the gun power of British empire which was most cunning and mischievous among western imperialists. British rulers forgot their promise given to the peace activists led by Mahatma Gandhi that if Indian soldiers participate in just now one century old first world war that started in the year 1914, immediately right of 'Home Rule' would be granted to India after the war would be won. Gandhi reposed his faith on a clan of liars. It left no option for nationalist leaders to take resort to a military revolution against the imperial military force. Rashbehari Bose conceived the most practical plan and formed in abroad Indian National Army and handed over it to Subhas Chandra Bose. Nataji was inspired by rebel hermit Swami Vivekananda through his prudent writings. So spirit of committed adventure was the call of the day. Writers churned it out rightly just in time. 'Aaranyak' is one in the top most form.

The inherent motive of this eminent writer was likely to motivate Bengalee youth in colonial India, was to instill a spirit of adventure to drive in the challenging tasks far away from Kolkata's offer of safe and secure white collar jobs. This is the core psychic trap what Rabindranath pointed out in his clear line ‘Saat Koti Santanerey hey mugdhojanoni, rekhechho Bangali korey, manush koroni’ (Hey amused Mother! Seven crore children of you have indulged as crippled Bengalees but not bloomed full human). Late prominent writer Saratchandra Chcittopadhyay had his novel based on his own teenage memory of adventurous and noble hearted one batch mate Rajendranath renamed as Indranath in novel episodes for the same motive of inspiring readers in widening mind from selfishness to make tough adventurous sacrifice for the British shackled motherland. Rebel sanyasi Swami Vivekananda made an open clarion call to youth of Bengal to indulge in the risky and spirited adventure of Indian independence movement. A devout of Swami Vivekananda ,Great Nationalist & adventurist hero Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose led first Indian National Army in alien foreign land formed by procuring prisoners of war of Indian origin, posed the most effective challenge to British Imperialist power who had to leave India their most treasured far away Asian colony on 15th August 1947.

Fiction publishers were always as ever and still now had have been encouraged or better say hounded popular writers in writing fast food like novels by nature of a pure commodity centering on man-woman relationship which would artistically sublimate sex as romance. Romantic comedy in perfect chemistry sells equally well in books and on screen. They successfully converted even initially a leftist wing writer like eminent novelist Late Samaresh Basu to write soft porns such as 'Bibor' (hole) and 'Projapoti' (Butterfly). So it goes to the credit of versatile Late Bibhutibnusan Bandyopa-dhyay that he ventured out of the banal tradition/trap to make a sincere study of the econorrics and sociology of deforestation and basics of plight of forest tribes of Bihar and fictionalized in a novel 'Aaranyak' in those yesteryears. Of late Prof Derek Atridge of York University in a symposium in Jadavpur University, Kolkata on 01.12.14 on 'Literary Activism' on the theme of protesting literature becoming corporate commodity, advocated that it should instead have a self imposed rule & sincere commitment on ethics of humanity.

In taking diametrical opposite direction of much vaunted state policy of Social Forestry which recognizes balance between economic development and the need of ecological forestation ; the present role of comprador bourgeoisie of Indian polity prompted by MNCs (Pseudonym of global imperialist corporations) is making destructive steps on forest evicting forest communities. It is only to handover vast mineral resources of India lying beneath some forests to global capitalist exploitation which kind of stupid industrialization already has much eroded the Ozone layer exposing entire animal planet to cancer in mass scale.

However, even the Capitalist states do not consider literature as a commodity. So nowhere it imposes Octroi, Sales Tax or Product & Service tax or Value Added Tax; not to speak of import or export tariff. So literature in return must preserve its time honoured attributes as a tool of humanity.

Looking back on 'Aaranyak', the present article researches the great feelings of an urban Kolkata bred author using his intellect and imagination to authentically depict the sublime needs of retaining forest for its surreal beauty and be conscious of mundane needs of marginal survival of the forest communities.

Permanent Settlement Act by British colonial rulers not only diverted the Indian moneyed class from industrialization of own economy but promoted the neo-feudal Zamindar class to subserve imperialist interest. The new 'Raja' clan created by it was prompted to earn more land revenue by sheer destruction of India's round the year bright sun enriched vast forest lands at large converted to cultivable lands falling under their command territory. It was an age of plunder for British who never cared to frame rules to preserve forests among Indian many natural resources from such destruction. The particular event of greedy commercial destruction of forest on which the novel was written was an actual event of deforestation in the location of Bihar's Purnia district's thirty thousand bighas of land . It was a vast forest spread upto the horizon where mountains met the skyline.

A big zamindar of Mymansingh district located at the eastern side of undivided Bengal had acquired that forest land at a dirt cheap tenancy rent from British government with an intention to convert it into cultivable as well habitable land for their allocation among farming households. It would fetch him more land rent at a higher margin more than collected at his Mymansingh's ready farmland obtained by the cunning Zamindar at a higher tenancy rent from government. The Law Degree qualified young man was recruited for the project as iob which was quite intricate & mammoth and needed a well known honest person. But educated Bengalees were at all not available, who were most obviously preferring more comfort zone of urban Calcutta in the white collar jobs either in government services, practice of medicine, courts of law or merchant firms.

Man is part of nature, so man should not be its enemy. The pristine beauty of forest as essayed in the novel 'Aaranyak' reminds it to the readers. It has ever been the very basic approach to nature of ancient scholars of Indus Valley civilisation. The great number of ancient wise Indian scholars had made the study centres in forests. Despite early advances of sophisticated basic sciences of Mathematics, Astronomy, Medical Science and the related Medicinal plantation, those scholars thrived on foods from nature i.e. fruits and vegetables preserving forests in their neighbourhood. The fertile lands of Indus Valley offered seasonal fruits and vegetables round the year. Water came from rainwater preserving ponds and several rivers meandering their flow through villages.

In its opposite, the adverse climate of Great Britain dominated by snowfall and absence of Sun in most part of the year causing land low productive, had put hundreds of years the people of Great Britain in food crisis and resultant poverty. Before capitalist industrialization glorified as 'Industrial Revolution' achieved in the Eighteenth century, sufficient opportunity of generation and appropriation of own nature blessed wealth was not there. So partly by compulsion and partly by greed, the western advances had has destroyed nature in particular the forests across the globe, dubbing the act as civilization. But the present international conferences on Global Warming due to massive carbon print for western type industrialization causing onset of Cancer for erosion of forests on land and resultant hole in Ozone layer around the sky of earth, clearly is a pointer to the folly of Western myth on civilization.

Ricardo the eminent British Economist, in his famous theory of Rent pointed out that original and indestructible power of the soil is the primitive power of land used through cultivation. But Bibhutibhusan in the way he vividly illustrated in literary skill the primitive power of land in essence creating and regenerating the natural assets of forest in large and small trees, bushes, fruit & flower plants, raised a counterpoint on 'primitive power of land'. To Ricardo it was required to make cultivation in order to avail rent which inevitably destroys the forest land, to visualize seasonal and annual power of land. Rather eternal and autonomously regenerating Asian and African natural forest (often writer mentioned in Aaranyak novel) not taken into account by an ancient British Economist living in Britain, almost not having such richness in natural endowment of forestry might have missed the aspect of natural bliss unfortunately.

Advent of agriculture destroying forests unquestionably resolved the natural food availability problem by sustained food supply as against the previous period of collection of animal flesh and fruits from forestland uncertain in supply. Agriculture with seasonal rhythm of circular climatic changes ensured food balance with growing requirement of socialized human population on earth, so far leading a nomadic life for need of food. But since mid of last century, the application of chemical fertilizer artificially boosting land productivity brought in same coin the depletion if not end of original and indestructible power of land asking Ricardians question on time limits of the basic premise of theory of rent based on eternal soil productivity. The toll of chemically synthetic agriculture applied on cultivable soil overriding natural power of land, not only destroyed sub-soil micro-organic life cycle replenishing soil fertility automatically & continually; but the alien seed based agriculture also brought in large scale i.e. almost epidemic number of unapprehended death of Farmers of Punjab from mass level incidence of Cancer on protagonists. Their only default was that they were obsessed with Norman Borlogue's HYV farming causing discontinuation of organic farming and time honoured eco-friendly indigenous cropping. Utter commoditization of agriculture in lure of profit brought mass annihilation of man for cumulative chemical poisoning in Punjab’s gullible farmer community which is tragically comparable to Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984 brought by chemical industry of Union Carbide.

This retroactive incidents of initially Feudal and later capitalist development in agriculture was not so apparent at the time of writing 'Aaranyak' to the much knowledgeable novelist. But in this novel he portrayed an authentic scenario of destruction of forest filled with peace and heavenly beauty converted to average low productive non-irrigated cultivable land as dictated by the Zamindaar in his way to reap higher land rent from newly leasee tillers against old sons of the soil once who lost decades back their land due to long years' inundation by river. Very soon some greedy people of 'Rajput' community with big bucks came to lease in big plots and in season of harvest brought armed hired goondas to snatch away mature crops of poor farmers of 'Gangota' tribal community. It led to bloody riot. This was adding insult to injury to the poor farmers who en masse were exploited for Mahajani loans with arbitrary interest collected by coercion brutely by engaging 'Lathials' (strongmen armed with bamboo sticks).

Empathic writer had highlighted the stark contrast of silt enriched productivity of Gangiatic Bengal land yielding paddy and multivarious seasonal vegetables and fruits to farmers at ease round the year with low potential of conventional agriculture in very low fertile soil composition of concerned Bihar land moreover low due to scarcity of natural water essential for irrigation. So destruction of century old nature grown pristine rich forest for low yield cultivation does not make prudent economic sense, what the Zamindar was doing in nearly arid zone of Bihar. Only well planned irrigation infrastructure could support growing good crop harvest there in absence of proximity of river and insufficient rainfall in the locality, made its chance worse by destruction of forest well recognized to induce rainfall.

Remarkably in this portrayal of man and forest relationship, there is no finding on the ancient profession of wood cutters which is observed even in Alibaba episode famous mostly for magical 'Seasame Open' and 'Seasame Close' calls in the vast folk tale compendium 'Arabian Nights' originated in south East Asia. It can be here interpolated from low and uncertain income of aboriginal denizens repeatedly mentioned by the author that there were no wholesale or retail buyer as primary or secondary point of sale for emergence or sustenance of this long known mode of livelihood of Wood Cutter. Poor local tribes must had free access to a gift of nature i.e. dry woods for need of fire to process the paltry foods or for light in night for observing daily household chore, for heat in need in chill winter more deadly cool in sunset over long night hours or for defensive round the year nocturnal fire walls against onslaught of wild violent animals like tigers lifting human being for eating or elephants, bears and buffellows bulldozing men for penalizing them to intrude inside forestland which some brute animals consider their exclusive zone.

Pristine forests can preserve remnants of aboriginal civilization of this country dating back to pre-Aryan era on Indus valley,- was a striking proposition of the eminent well read writer Bibhutibhusan. The young hero of the novel always dared to venture into length and breath of deep forest not only to learn the natural but also human resources of the forest. He talked intimately to all kinds of members of the underdeveloped primitive economy suffering into stark poverty and learned with empathy the very own rhythm of their life having own moments of pleasure and pride instead of grief for poverty all the time.

In course of these noble and equally humane discoveries, he could reach the king of Santhals, recognized by historians as the first tribal community of Indus Valley who waged first Indian Revolution of independence against the British Raj. The Raj brutalized the torture on them to defeat the revolution and dumped them into poverty stripped from all ancient authority they had with primitive resources. As the young man, the protagonist of the author, made a guided visit to the royal Santhal palace and crematorium, a vast historical tragedy came alive in the much later conceived 'Sun et lumet' alike. It is history made alive by converged light and sound shows in evenings around historical shrines delivered in modern electronic image and sound convergence technology, coming up & installed in India in post independence era.

"As Aryans invaded tribal community ruled ancient India. ...the entire recorded history of India thereafter is the history of Aryan civilization—the history of the defeated non-Aryan communities was nowhere written instead that is written on these remote mountain-caves, in the darkness of forests, drawn in powdered remains of the preserved skeletons. The victor Aryans were never engaged in reading those records. Even today the vanquished primitive aboriginal tribes remain as neglected, humiliated and ignored. The arrogant proud Aryans for their advanced civilization never cared to look back on them, to understand their kind of civilization, nor do it even today" (Quoted from novel) as revealed to the then sensitive visitor in his adventure pursuit.

Thus one finds that the novelist's literary sojourn to a classical pristine forest has become a holistic tribute to nature and the denizens friendly to nature in no way destroying mother forest. This sincere respectful homage to forest tribes into their present and past in historical perspective of centuries old Santhal tribe's unsung civilization by India and Western country based Aryan historical studies with a sinister hidden agenda to deprive aboriginal owners of land under Indus Valley of their rights and authority on natural resources occupied by them for over some hundreds years until snatched away by invader and victor Aryans.

Aryan arrogance over tribal community is still a die hard psyche of Branmin tradition since conceived by early Aryans invading Indus Valley. Satyajit Ray, an ardent admirer of Bihutibhusan, exposed this attitude in his brilliant film titled 'Aranyer Dinratri' (Day & Night in Forest). It was based on the rig morale /mental order (or disorder!) highlighted in a novel of same title penned down in next generation of mainstream Bengali literature by Sunil Gangopadhyay, another legendary Bengali intellectual in his lifetime. It had shown how, Kolkata based Bengalees took in contempt the forest tribal community. These downtrodden members of tribal community of forest were seen as object of desire in sexual fantasy. As if except indigenous liquor, intense physical company in one night stand form and tribal folk dance & song, these communities had nothing to offer to Bengali gentry (Bhadralok). Mahasweta Devi, a contemporary leading Bengali writer has turned herself into social activist to the cause of upliftment of forest tribes of Eastern India while writing profusely on them in exemplary sincerity to the case. Since British period, for their vested interest of colonial plundering vast mineral resources in tribal hinterland, tens and thousands of tribal people were driven out from their home and hearth. Even in post 1947 independent India, the similar eviction is happening. Any organized opposition of tribal community is still ruthlessly suppressed by state in connivance with central government giving it a sinister political colour of ultra leftist. Blood and tears are gifts of state regularly to the tribal people not caring any 'yes or no' of the faceless victims. The young protagonist of this novel, despite his urban upbringing learned and enjoyed much more for his enlightened empathic look in a curious painstaking roaming round the year in pristine woods which was not an easy task.

The conclusion may come in hiring one lyric of Rabindranath Tagore with a twist in the concept of personal love transcended to broader context, 'Keno chokher joley vijiye dilem na, sukno dhulo jato... paar hoey esechho tumi go onahuter mato' (why I have not sprinkled on dry dusts in your way to wet it with my tears... while you have come across to me like one without invitation?). The 'Aaranyak' writer deserves this standing ovation for his protagonist's sojourn to forest and its tribal people at much earlier Bengali literature. It was an awesome union of souls of human and forest! The classic love story deserving Nobel Prize.

Vol. 47, No. 29, Jan 25 - 31, 2015