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Remember what Tagore wrote about Locusts in Sahaj Path?

27 May, 2020 05:06:46
Remember what Tagore wrote about Locusts in Sahaj Path?

"আজ মঙ্গলবার। পাড়ার জঙ্গল সাফ করবার দিন। সব ছেলেরা দঙ্গল বেঁধে যাবে। রঙ্গলালবাবুও এখনি আসবেন। আর আসবেন তাঁর দাদা বঙ্গবাবু। সিদ্ধি, তুমি দৌড়ে যাও তো। অনঙ্গদাদাকে ধরো, মোটরগাড়িতে তাঁদের আনবেন। সঙ্গে নিতে হবে কুড়ুল, কোদাল, ঝাঁটা, ঝুড়ি। আর নেব ভিঙ্গি মেথরকে। এবার পঙ্গপাল এসে বড়ো ক্ষতি করেছে। ক্ষিতিবাবুর ক্ষেতে একটি ঘাস নেই। অক্ষয়বাবুর বাগানে কপির পাতাগুলো খেয়ে সাঙ্গ ক’রে দিয়েছে। পঙ্গপাল না তাড়াতে পারলে এবার কাজে ভঙ্গ দিতে হবে। ঈশানবাবু ইঙ্গিতে বলেছেন, তিনি কিছু দান করবেন।"

As swarms of locusts have entered the western states of India, I was repeatedly reminded of the 'Pangapaal' that attacked Kshiti babu's fields. Well that's what I learnt from Rabindranath Tagore's Sahaj Path. And famous painter Nandalal Bose's illustration of that locust that looked more like a grasshopper but had shorter horns. Those sketches always made me curious as to how a group of men with axe and spades will remove jungles to kill the locusts!

But Tagore's Sahaj Path did bring forth the veracity with which locusts used to destroy crops in Bengal even in the last century. My mother remembers one such Locust Plague of 1950s where gardens and fields were wiped out leaving behind just neem trees, that could not be fed upon because of their bitter taste. In British India, locust swarms were a big problem, at times even leading to famine like situations. Bengal always being a very green state with multiple crops growing in fields were a big focus. However, the locust swarms that attacked Bengal were primarily of Migratory or Tree Locust varieties. Not the Desert Locust variety that is attacking India at present.

Locust swarms in Bengal were so very dangerous that the British even thought of using cannons, firing blank guns or airplanes to push them away. But there was a possibility of the locusts clogging the mouths of aeroplane engines or cannon mouths and causing accidents. Hence such plans had to be abandoned. As mentioned by Tagore in Sahaj Path, the only tool used were cleaning forests to dissuade locust swarms from living on trees. In 1929 documents show Pangapal or locusts were worshipped as Shiva's horses and farmers in Bengal thought they were sent as a curse as Lord Shiva or Mahadeva was angry with them.

So farmers started using pet birds in hordes like mynah, crows and storks that used to feed on hundreds of locusts.

Thankfully this year the 3km long locust swarm that has arrived from Iran via Pakistan, are restricted to Western and Central India. But they are feeding amd breeding very fast and can increase their population size by 16,000 times in one season and feed on crops at an astronomical rate. A single swarm can finish the food of 2,500 people per day!

No wonder Tagore knew their destructive power and hence included their story in his famous book Sahaj Path. Today once again my childhood memory returns with the return of one of the worst locust attacks in India.

Story Tag:
  • Rabindranath Tagore, Sahaj Path, Locust Attack

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