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Wilderness Tales from Similipal (Book Review)

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Reviewed by: Panchami Manoo Ukil

Author: Satyesh Naik.

Publisher: Cinnamon Teal Publishing, Goa. (ISBN: 978983175772)

Price: Rs. 900.00

Available online at: Amazon, Flipkart, Infibeam, Dogearsetc.

The state of Odisha is a rich biodiversity repository as it is strategically positioned at the confluence of two major bio-geographical provinces, the Eastern Ghats and the Chotanagpur Plateau. Though it is abundantly endowed with a rich natural heritage, yet there are not many writings on wilderness coming out of Odisha, especially from the younger generation of wildlife enthusiasts. So when young naturalist, wildlife enthusiast, birdwatcher, wildlife photographer and author, Satyesh Naik, sent me the manuscript of his book “Wilderness Tales of Similipal”, I was elated and also relieved to see a detailed and enriching narrative on the queen of Odisha’s forests, Similipal.

Spread across a vast expanse of 2750 sq. km, Similipal holds a veritable treasure of flora and fauna in its thick Sal-forested folds. In the foreword to the book, the PCCF (WL) & CWLW, Odisha, Siddhanta Das (IFS) has aptly described Similipal as the “lungs of Eastern India.” In our growing up years, Similipal was always famous as tiger territory. The legendary tigress Khairi and her equally legendary foster- father S.R. Choudhury fascinated the imagination of an entire generation with their unique brand of man-animal bonding.

Calling Similipal mythical and magical, the author regales the reader with facts, anecdotes and myths about Similipal in a storytelling style. There are in-depth descriptions of valleys, mountains, peaks, rivers,rivulets, and waterfalls that make up the wondrous Similipal scape, like,Jashipur, Barahakamuda, Thakurmunda, Jenabil, Udala, Devasthali, Nigirdha, Pithabata, Chahala, Meghasani, Khariburu,Barehipani, Salandi, Budhabalanga, Deo, Baitarani, etc. In fact, there are mentions of many quaint and lesser known spots, especially range offices and tiny forest beats, like Nawana, Kachudahan, Nekdancha, Dangadiha, Jodapal, Gunduria, Dhundubasa, Baunsakhal, Khadkhai, Gurguria, Kulipal, etc. Flora and fauna of every patch in the forest is detailed including mentions and descriptions of those endemic to Similipal forests, like Paradoxurusjorandensis, a palm civet in Joranda. The past history of the forest including the hunting expeditions of the Mayurbhanj maharajahs, their hunting lodges, tiger tracking, timber contracting, “akhandshikar”, life of communities inhabiting buffer zones, village haats, experiences on a “machan”, Maoist issues, and poaching, are all discussed. The book has more than one hundred photographs of Similipal forests, including some rare ones collected by the author from various sources.

You can see the author’s innate passion for the wilderness as he recounts intimate experiences and encounters in the forest through some riveting tales. Every drive and trek through the wooded trails in the core forests is meticulously detailed with interesting snippets. This narrative, however, stands out because of the author’s unwavering acknowledgement of the role played by our forest officers and guards in these remote areas. These guardians of our forests live in the toughest conditions, far away from civilization with little access to basic needs. The smoke trail billowing from the beat kitchens could be from only a pot of rice cooking in the hearth, to be eaten with salt and chillies, if a ration has not arrived on time. Yet these men and women tirelessly persevere through hardships to patrol and protect our forests and its denizens from imminent threats every moment. Names like Mahiram, Somnath Sahoo, Ravi Bhaina, Bhagirathi, Krupasindhu Behera and others with whom the author spent hours as he unraveled the secrets of the beautiful Similipals,represent our unsung heroes who defend our forest wealth. The author has admirably dedicated this book to the forest department staff of Similipal. I agree wholeheartedly with him when he says that government must empathise and  provide better facilities and higher compensations to these forest foot soldiers.

Especially touching for me is the narrative of man-animal bonding from Barahakamuda. This is the tale of Forester

Harmohanbabu and a mother elephant who brought her calf to the forest office one evening as the calf was under threat from a tiger. While all other forest staff fearing the elephant mother hid inside various quarters, Harmohan babu understood what the mother elephant was trying to express. He calmly went and locked the calf in one of the rooms. The mother elephant then left to ward away the tiger. She returned the next morning with the herd to take her calf back. The scared and reluctant calf was baited out with a bunch of bananas and was reunited with its mother. The lump-in-the-throat moment in this real-life episode is that the herd of elephants trumpeted and raised their trunks to salute Harmohan babu.

The interconnectedness between humans and all their fellow beings on earth is palpable and real. There is no denying the interdependence. Unfortunately the race for development and consumerism has led to a rash disconnect.With the earth losing forty seven acres of forests every minute, it is an alarming wake-up call for every earth citizen to consciously strive to safeguard whatever is left. The world of gadgetry may be taking us faster towards conquering new frontiers but then it is also the reason why we are ignorant and negligent about everything that nurtures us and keeps us alive. It is therefore imperative to introduce the younger generation to the untamed wilderness in order to familiarize them with their co-inhabitants on earth, all of whom are born with as equal rights over natural habitats and resources.

It is dedicated eco-soldiers like Satyesh Naik who remind us of our role and our responsibilities towards our roots. “Wilderness Tales of Similipal” will certainly inspire young minds and foster interest in them towards the intricate linkages between inhabitants of planet earth. This book is unputdownable and a must-read for everyone who is interested in the enchanting world of forests and wilderness. I have never dog-eared so many pages in one book. Anecdotes compel you to come back to the pages for a re-read. The book is an outcome of abiding love for the wilds, a love that will permeate to the reader as he traverses the trails of the magnificent Similipals with the author.

 

 

The writer can be contacted at [email protected]

 

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