Friday, January 12, 2007
In December, I went on a cruise to the Sunderbans. These are 56 islands of dense mangrove forest. They say it is the largest mangrove forest in the world. Hugli, Sattarmukhi, Bulcherry, Matla and Gusaba are some of the rivers that cradle these islands. Like the eternal mother these rivers give birth to new islands each year and submerge someothers like they had never been.
The river sustains the inhabitants of the islands. Mangroves suck up the salt water, and cover up like a monk's cloak, every available patch of uncovered land. Their roots bind the land together. Under their nurture and care, and the supervision of Bon Bibi(the tribal deity), prosper many species of flora, small animals, even the majestic royal Bengal tiger.
Our boat floated like a debris - we stood out in relief to this place so alive. If our spirits had been mottled by the city's tired breath, here we breathed fresh air, stared up in wonder at the blue sky and looked down every now and then at the glistening river. At night we looked at the sky and wondered if we had ever seen stars before.
Some of these islands are inhabited by humans. One of them is Bhagabatpur. Here we made a brief stop, during high tide. We took in some of their island life to survive in us as memories. They would remind us of life when we are back in the city, encumbered in our quiet, comfortable existence. When the tide began to recede, we went back to out boat and made our way back home.
Mangrove swamps on either side,
Eyelids of your sparkling eyes.
What childish dreams you dream all day.
Earthen houses, earthen pots and pans,
Even your hands are made of clay,
Every day is work and play.
Longish boats on brackish waters,
Are dark silhouettes before the orange sun.
Low tide and high tide,
Moonlight and sunlight,
Are two sides of an uneasy sleeper,
Tossing and turning in bed.
Mud children of the mangrove swamp,
Hide their melting smiles from the sun,
And flap their wings at dusk.
Evenings roar like a beast,
But the night is silent,
Like the ripples of the Ganga.
Hark the sound of the lonely boatman,
Paddle on, paddle on,
Turn every turn of the twisting river.
The mangrove swamp shall follow them,
And open wide her hungry mouth,
To taste the seawater.