View Full Version : Who are those that whisper?

Samrat Sarkar
13-02-2022, 06:54 PM
When I was very young I came in touch with a very flamboyant teacher in our home. He was our private tutor and was the only private tutor we had all throughout my childhood days and he used to help us in all the subjects. But we were particularly more attracted to his catchy way of teaching Bengali language to us. He always inspired us to create our own way of righting independently on various new topics. His command on Bengali language and his mesmerizing description of our nondescript village on different occasions has left an indelible mark on our hearts.

A very large water body has run right through the center of our village. Its name is Boisa Beel. On the west side of the Beel there was a very old tomb of a Muslim cleric surrounded by many large mango trees where people thronged to attend the Ghazi Fakir’s fair. That used to be a lackluster village fair which took place during the onset of the winter season and lasted for about a week. Our private tutor once wrote a beautiful topic on this Ghazi Fakir’s fair and in that topic he depicted an extraordinary picture of the Boisa Beel with his mighty pen. The Boisa Beel just before the dusk at the end of a rainy season and brimming with water, dense bushes of the long blades of grasses, small canoes of the fishermen, flocks of bats flying through the dark red evening sky, the sounds of the country flutes wafting from the Ghazi Fakir’s fair – all these made the topic very much alive.

From then onwards I used to rush to the Boisa Beel every afternoon after I finished my studies and stood beside the Beel to see how the evening light merged with the water of the Beel. A particular sentence written by our tutor came to my mind very frequently. “As the sun dips into the horizon who are those that whisper with hidden faces in the darkness near the still water of the Beel?” Since then I started believing that there really were some creatures who talked among themselves everyday as the night approached in the half submerged dense bushes of the reeds in the Boisa Beel.

Sometimes the flocks of egrets, whistling ducks, teals or the group of people from the village of the fishermen or the groups of crickets or a horde of frogs, all of them talks in a very low voice in the darkness falls in the Boisa Beel. Those whispering words travelled along the winds all the way to my home, to my school and to every corner of my childhood being. This way the attraction of the Boisa Beel to me surpassed the imagination that was formed by my tutor’s description and slowly and inevitably started to penetrate through all my existence.

Samrat Sarkar
13-02-2022, 06:55 PM
Then I grew up. The age-old rhythm of the simple village life was greatly disturbed by the open market policy and globalization. Many of our neighbours of the village moved towards the bigger cities with bigger dreams in their eyes for a better living. The small canoes remained idle on the elevated land on the eastern side of the Beel and gradually started gathering moss on them. And modern way of agricultural activities started flourishing on the eastern bank of the Beel.

Slowly, the poison of the new industrial activities followed the modern cultivation near the Beel. Then there sprang up a number of human settlements. Some concrete pillars were erected on the north side, in the dense bushes of the reeds. By then sky-high electric towers stood boldly in the middle of the Boisa Beel. Truckloads of river sand started pouring in day and night to develop the land and thereby to choke the heart of the Beel. One day a group of unknown people laid a measuring tape in front of ‘Saheb Bagan’ where large flocks of swamphens kept on skirmishing all the time. People from the big city came at nights and threatened dire action if anybody went against their will. That was it, the construction of boundary wall continued unhindered. The Boisa Beel started being engulfed little by little by the Land-Hawks.

The Boisa Beel, which once flew through my heart and through my veins, was stopped by the political flags and by the dirty tussles between opposite groups. Many of our neighbours and friends changed colours in the pretext of their livelihood. Among many known people my private tutor also disappeared in the oblivion from my life. But I could not obliterate his words and his famous sentence from my memory which often brought me right into the center of the Mother Nature, close to the canals, channels, lowland water bodies and swamps of our village. That is where I always felt at home, safe and secure and that is where I could make new discoveries.

Samrat Sarkar
13-02-2022, 06:57 PM
The circle of my life became a bit broader. One day I surpassed the boundary of my village, district and state to visit Mangalajodi of Orissa which hosts one of the largest fresh water lake of our country. I had a totally new experience there. There also the words of my tutor rang in my ears: “…..who are those that whisper?”

Who really talks in low voices with obscured faces? Is it perceptible? Can anybody hear those sounds? I feel that one can listen to those sounds and can see them talking if one really wants to. In the thick bushes of the reeds, in the hyacinths, in the half submerged grass fields, in the rotten stalks of water lilies or lotuses there are so many varieties of native and foreign birds who constantly talk among themselves! And also, there are snakes, frogs and so many other insects who always remain engaged in talking among themselves! They perhaps talk about the stories of their collective struggle for survival for the last thousands or maybe millions of years.

The Mangalajodi is a legendary place of our country. This Mangalajodi which was once a heaven for the bird poachers is now considered a safe haven for all the birds and is one of the most important places for the bird watchers, bird lovers and the ornithologists in India. The very people who used to poach birds have now turned into local guides for the visiting birdwatchers and take the visitors on boat rides for watching birds closely.

Samrat Sarkar
13-02-2022, 06:59 PM
These ‘illiterate’ people can now tell the complicated and long names of all the native and migratory birds in a single breadth. A Black-tailed Godwit is searching for food in the mud with its beak into the water.

Samrat Sarkar
13-02-2022, 07:00 PM
My guide pointed my attention to a Redshank which was walking with its beak dipped into water.

Samrat Sarkar
13-02-2022, 07:01 PM
A Glossy Ibis has dipped its head into water in search of food. I had a strange feeling that it “talks” while it is putting its head into the water.

Samrat Sarkar
13-02-2022, 07:02 PM
As I went on seeing these birds I lost myself completely in a different world. That place really seemed to be a heaven for all of us with the birds, the trees and the plants and all other animals who were inhabiting there at that moment. But that heaven has not turned out to be so all of a sudden. This has been the result of a long and collective effort of all the local people of that place. That has been a joint venture of all the local nature lovers for their own interest to save and maintain the great water body to protect the creatures that are being protected by it.

We certainly benefit a great deal in the long run when we protect our mother nature. Scientists have shown that in a large water body there exists more than one hundred thousand species in it and still many more species are yet to be discovered the existence of which we are unaware of. Furthermore, a lot of people depend on that water body in some way or other. A water body consist of all these as a whole. All these living creatures supplement and complement one another in many ways. None of their life cycle is complete without the contribution of the other fellow creatures.

Is it only the science that will raise its voice in favour of these things all the time? Do our heritage, our ancient tradition and our legacy and our mother nature have to be upheld always by the materialistic objectives only? Is not there any other scope which will let people realize the importance of the water bodies?

The legacy of Mangalajodi speaks about this scope. The simple village people of this place have come to realize in a hard way that they will survive only if they can protect this large swampy land at any cost. If the lake is protected many birds will come from different places, even from many foreign countries. Then, to see these birds many visitors and birdwatchers will come to this place. That will be a means of permanent livelihood for them. And that is what is happening also. The Mangalajodi has started to show that there is an alternative.

I love birds and my passion for the nature is lopsided in favour of the birds of all the species. I have gone to Mangalajodi quite a number of times to listen to their stories and to see them “…..talking with obscured faces”.
This is one Purple Heron which has dipped its head into the water in search of some fish.

Samrat Sarkar
13-02-2022, 07:04 PM
Very close to this was seen a migratory Ruff.

Samrat Sarkar
13-02-2022, 07:05 PM
A shy Ruddy-breasted Crake was seen searching for insects inside rotten stalks of hyacinths in the golden mellow light of the setting sun.

Samrat Sarkar
13-02-2022, 07:06 PM
In some other place a desperate Yellow Bittern has fixed its inquisitive eyes in the muddy grassland of the swamp.

Samrat Sarkar
13-02-2022, 07:07 PM
These all are the fixed framed moments of the Mangalajodi lake which speak about the success story that the Mangalajodi is during a time when it has become a universal trend to fill up the water bodies and develop the land for commercial purposes. This is the story of the legacy of a sustainable alternative, the story of the mutual co-existence of the human along with all other plants and animals. This is a story which has no ends and is continuing endlessly in a cyclical path.

But that continuous whispering never ends. I come back to my native village and stand silently holding the hand of my eight year old son on the bank of the Boisa Beel. On the eastern side of the Beel I see the sky is covered by so many electrical towers. The Tomb of the Ghazi Fakir does no more houses to many mango trees as it did earlier. On the southern side of the Beel a lot of concrete jungles and concrete high-rises have come up.

Samrat Sarkar
13-02-2022, 07:14 PM
There are no bushes of reeds in the Beel anymore. And also, the Beel does no more brims with water during the rainy season. Almost all the channels through which rain water used to pour into the Beel have been filled up to construct new roads, new residential buildings or cultivating fields. Now you can visit the Ghazi Fakirs fair by travelling on a motorcycle along those roads if you want! Your feet will not get soiled now as it did earlier.

As I hold the hand of my son I try to relay the stories of the Boisa Beel which I heard many years ago from my private tutor. I try to draw the picture of the Beel of the earlier days in the young mind of my son. Stealing a canoe from the village of the fishermen on the first day of the Durga Puja Festival and staring at the night sky laying on it in the middle of the Beel with close friends, the building of nests by the Tri-coloured Munias and the Black-breasted Weavers, my weeping in the mango forest of the Ghazi Fakir due to a poor result of the annual exam, flying kites all the day in the Beel during winter seasons when the water of the Beel dried up and so many other things that I reminisce and narrate to my son. At times I take my son to Mangalajodi also. I try to let him feel the sound and feel the silence that the Beel produces. Show him that the birds put their mouth into the water and talk among themselves, they talk to their fathers, mothers, sons and daughters and to their friends. They put aside the grasses, bushes and the stalks of hyacinths to catch fishes, insects and eat them. The snakes catch frogs. All these are the parts of a large story of survival. The Beel survives and all the living creatures in it survive.

Going beyond the Science and Logic let me say about one or two words about the scope of the other alternative. The Beels and the wetlands are not only the wealth of the nature, they are our passion, our nostalgia of our easygoing and unhurried childhood days. They are the legacy of the generations after generations. If these things are not there what remains left in our lives!

Written in Bengali and Photographed by Samrat Sarkar
Translation into English by Bishwajit Debnath
Canon EOS 7D, Canon 500mm f4, Canon 18-55 Kit lens, Canon Power shot SX 130, Monopod.

Sabyasachi Patra
18-02-2022, 12:50 PM
This reflects the changes that we seen in our lifetime. While growing up in Odisha I used to see large swathes of land and bird and jackals etc. Today, all we find is concrete jungles. The wetlands have given way to concrete jungle. Even in Bhubaneswar, there is a large parcel of land where all the water including drain water falls and it was a marsh. I had seen even pochards. I have photographed jacanas, purple moore hens, white breasted kingfishers, pied kingfishers etc. However, construction soon started all around and debris dumped into it. Today it is kind of dead. My mom used to close the Windows because civets used to enter into the house. Now it is increasingly becoming rare. Its been months and I haven't seen a mongoose. Couple of days ago, I rescued a black kite dangling from a string. Our wetlands should be called Human Destroyed Landscape. Sad thing repeated all over India.

Mrudul Godbole
18-02-2022, 02:28 PM
Beautifully written article Samrat, and wonderful photos to support it. It is sad to hear about Boisa Beel, but that is the story of many wetlands (now treated as wastelands) in our country. Even in Bangalore so many lakes are dying due to being filled up with waste, chemicals being poured in them from industries or builders snatching them for constructions.

As you have said, Manglajodi has proved that if the intent is there then a lake can not only be saved/preserved but also can prosper. Hope more people realise this (sooner than later) and save our water bodies. Thanks for sharing this article.