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Forest eats forest

A huge tree being eaten up by parasitic climbers - Bhoothathankettu

“Forest eats forest,” our guide said dramatically. We, the staff of the school where I teach, were on an outing to the Bhoothathankettu dam and reserved forest. He was pointing at a parasitic climber on a mammoth tree. “This climber will kill this tree though the tree is so huge and the climber so small in comparison,” he said. “You may ask why not destroy the climber and save the tree.” He paused for dramatic effect. He was an excellent storyteller. “He would have made a good literature teacher,” I whispered to one of the teacher-colleagues standing by my side and she agreed instantly.

“This is one of the laws of forests: forest eats forest.” He explained that everything in the forest survives by eating something else in the forest. The tiger eats the deer. The deer eats the grasses, leaves and shoots. And some plants eat other plants.

I have always had a problem with that reality. One of the many dramatic questions I used to ask many people was: Did the same God create the tiger and the deer? I can’t accept that sort of sadism on God’s part.

There is a story by John Updike in grade 12 English course: Should Wizard Hit Mommy? A father tells bedtime stories to his 4-year-old daughter. In one of the stories, he says that spiders eat bugs. The little girl does not find that amusing. “Do they really?” She turns to her mother and asks. Mother’s answer is that God is in the sky and all around them. “Is He really?” The little girl wonders.

Whenever I teach that story the image of a fierce tiger pouncing on an elegant deer rises in my consciousness. And the question pops out invariably: “Did the same God create them both?” Well, I don’t wait for an answer. I don’t raise that question for any answer. I know the answers that will come. I don’t want them. I want to drop a spark in the young minds. Some thinking does no harm to anyone.   

We – my colleagues and I – continued to walk through that forest listening to the charming narratives of our guide. There are wild animals in that forest, he says. Elephants live nearby. He shows us the trail left by an elephant. If an elephant comes now, what do we do? He asks. Well, you save yourselves, he says. You’ll find me at the place from where we entered this forest. He is joking. Then he says, run. That’s what you do when the elephant comes. Run down a slope. Because elephants can’t run down slopes easily. There’s another animal that can’t run down slopes, he says. The bear. Do you know why a bear can’t run down slopes? He asks. Well, its hair will fall on its eyes and it will have to pause to part that hair, you see. And he acts it out like a professional comedian. We laugh. Didn’t you all learn that story about two friends who were chased by a bear? He asks. One of them climbed up a tree. The other couldn’t climb trees. So he just lay down pretending to be dead. He had heard that bears wouldn’t eat dead creatures. Don’t follow his example, he says. How long will you hold your breath? The forest is not foolish. It knows how to survive.

Survival is the primary virtue in the forest. Forest eats forest for survival.

Finally we reach our destination: the original Bhoothathankettu dam which is believed to have been built by Goddess Parvati’s supernatural army (bhoothams) in order to create a flood in the region where her husband Shiva was hiding after a family squabble. Don’t ask questions, our guide says as he narrates that legend with a touch of humour. This is one area where questions will have no answers, he says.

My question whether the same God created the tiger and the deer will have no satisfactory answers either. I know. Like the mother in Updike’s story, people will tell me about the mysteriousness that shadows God’s ways. Forest eating forest is part of that divine mysteriousness. Survival is a virtue, anyway.

Our guide and some of us

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  1. The title , the post - everything is so interesting. Bhoothathankettu tthe name has some mystery around it too. I love the philosophy embedded in this post. Your guide seems fun too - how he told don't ask any questions! Seriously nature is amusing...thirst to survive and survival of the fittest. God's design is strange but fitting. It is mans design thats problematic ( overt destruction of nature)

    Love ur posts!

    1. That guide has an exquisite sense of humor. He knows much about animals, forests, and history of the place. I found him sheer fun while being a storehouse of information.

  2. Not sure if it's a virtue, but it's certainly the need. What will you do if you have a pistol in your hand and an animal comes pouncing on you. What will your instinct be? It's a sad reality but forest eats forest.

    1. Yes, we have to accept certain realities though they are bad.

  3. Hari OM
    Yup it's a dog eat dog world... Some of those dogs walk on two legs.

    Loved the story of the Forest Fellow and his Fun! YAM xx

    1. That guy was sheer fun. But i admired his familiarity with the forest and all its details.

  4. Dear Tomichan,

    Thank you for sharing this post today. For the duration of the time I was reading it, your words and that of the guide's transported me into that forest. I haven't managed to go on my annual treks since 2019, so your post did the next best thing--it read like an immersive travelogue. The image of a bear parting his hair--chuckles:)

    Also--I'm all ears for Parvathy's story--atta girl--flush a sulking hubby out I say! HA! HA!

    About the moot question you raised. My atheist friends have an easy answer--Life's first and last instinct is to survive. Hence.

    1. I'm glad i could be of such service to you.

      The Parvati-Shiva legend in this place is very elaborate. There's an ancient temple in the place where Shiva was supposedly hiding from his consort. And the stretch of boulders do look like they were deposited in their places by some superhuman entities.

  5. Enjoyed every line, sir. I recalled the lines by Kannadasan.

    The God made two toys
    Just to play.
    They both made a toy together
    to play for themselves.

  6. The guide, the dam, the forest and the legend... every element of the post is so engaging. And the question that you raised, lingers in the minds of most of us, most of the times and without much of satisfactory answer. But what will happen when we will finally get a satisfactory answer, is what I wonder at times. Will it lead to another set of questions?

    1. The moment we start asking questions, we need to be prepared for a barrage of them. Questions never come alone.

  7. Poor God, if bestowed with any power would ask the people why they always drag its name to situations they fail to find a reasonable answer.

    1. Yes. God is the answer to all insoluble problems. And a very unsatisfactory answer!

  8. “Did the same God create them both?” Well, I don’t wait for an answer. I don’t raise that question for any answer. I know the answers that will come. I don’t want them. I want to drop a spark in the young minds. Some thinking does no harm to anyone.

    I so loved this. This is the best thing a teacher can do. Huge respect for you, Sir.

    And I believe, everyone comes to experience this perennial question at least once in their life and those who honestly seek truth (and not just a convincing answer) get to experience truth in its wholeness where there is no space for questions or answers but only an experience.

    1. I wonder how this comment escaped my attention so far.


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