Ecophilosophy in Kikkeri Narayana’s “Wild Fowl and a Pair of Peacocks” : Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb

Ecophilosophy in Kikkeri Narayana’s “Wild Fowl and a Pair of Peacocks” : Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb

                     Considering “The World as Sanctuary,” Eco-philosophy sees humanity as one with nature, carrying the  universe onward from inanimate matter of life, to consciousness, and ultimately to the Divine.  This new worldview emphasizes  the  unique  precious and sacred nature of our planet.   The five key tenets of eco-philosophy are:     1) The world is a Sanctuary. 2) Reverence  for life in our  guiding value. 3) Frugality is  a precondition for inner happiness. 4) Spirituality and rationality do not exclude each other, but complement each other. 5) In order to heal the planet, we must heal ourselves  (Skolimowski, home.cogeco.ca).   It is  Arne Naess who defined eco-philosophy   as “a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. A philosophy as a kind of sofia (or) wisdom, is openly normative, it contains both norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs in our universe”   (qtd. Drengson & Y. Inoue  8).   Hence, in the  realm of  ideology we can speak of the need for Ecological Humanism which points towards social  relationships based on the idea of sharing, and stewardship. It sees world as  a Sanctuary in which we temporarily dwell, and of which we must take the utmost  care.   It speaks of human life having a   transcendent  dimension, with its   eschatology,  concerned with the ultimate end and meaning of  life.   Ecological humanism calls for ecological spirituality that takes  the Cosmos to its creator  (Skolimowski.home.cogeco.ca).

          We form part of today’s ecological crisis and are  conscious of our environmental responsibility to protect the earth and its resources.    As William  Rueckert  opines:

The problem…is  to find ways of keeping the human community from destroying the natural community, and with it the  human community. This is what ecologists like to call the self-destructive or suicidal motive that is inherent in our prevailing and paradoxical attitude toward nature. The conceptual and practical problem is to find the  grounds  upon which the two communities – the human, the natural – can coexist, cooperate, and flourish in the biosphere (Rueckert 107).

 In the backdrop of the growing  global ecological concerns,  Narayana Kikkeri, a Professor at the Central Institute of central Languages and a renowned Kannada writer, comes  out  powerfully to state his eco-concerns in the play “Wild Fowl and a Pair of Peacocks.”   As it has been   observed by  Jonathan Bate that  Nature    is  a term that  needs to be contested, not rejected. It is profoundly unhelpful to say ‘there is no nature’ at a time when  our most  urgent need is to address  and redress the consequences of human civilization’s  insatiable desire   to  consume the  products of the earth. We are confronted for the first time in history with the possibility of  there being  no part of the earth  left untouched by man (Bate 171).

           “Wild Fowl and a Pair of Peacocks” is  written in the backdrop of Jenu Kuruba tribes of Karnataka who are the original residents of the forest region of the Western Ghats and other places of South India. In Kannada language “Jenu”  signifies honey and “Kuruba” represents caste.  Hence, they are honey gatherers by profession, who have embraced the natural habitat of the forest region. They have developed their own culture and ethnicity due to prolonged  alienated life. They also  take up to cultivation as a supplementary profession. They live in tiny huts known as “Haadi” or “Hatti.” In recent times, they have settled down in numerous huge hamlets due to Governmental and NGO initiatives  (“Jenu Kuruba  Tribe.”  http://www.indianetzone.com).    Centring on their  myths, beliefs and customs, the playwright  recounts the story of Bomma of Kenchana Haadi, who captures and tames an elephant for the first time ever in the settlement. The tribal chief Yajamana Kencha invokes the guardian spirit of the Haadi for an oracle.   Heggade, the representative of the King of Mysore, wants to get hold of the elephant as well as the forest land. The resistance by  the old  chief and the villagers bring about tragic consequence.

           The play opens with the chanting by the women, defining the spirit of their life in the forest:

 We are the children of the forest

The kings of the woods

We are the honey gatherers

And the basket weavers

We dig the tubers

We tease the tigers

Play with the elephant

Fight with the wild buck

Dance with the peacock

We are the children of the forest

We are the kings of the woods (Narayana 203).

          The villagers are gathered around   the fire as the  old headman Kencha invokes the  guardian spirit  of the Haadi.   The conversation  centres around  Bomma’s  capture of the  huge elephant, risking his life. The elephant’s rage,  stamping on the ground and trumpeting was bad  omen for the people who  knew they had angered the spirit of nature.  The elephant had tried to attack Thimma,  while digging up tubers and had lifted the young girl, Jaaji, on its trunks.  However,  since Bomma had tamed it, their concern is to get an oracle from the    spirit for approval from the ancestors. As the women chant,  godman Gudda   strikes his breast with a gourd shell. Yajamana Kencha demands an oracle from the godman:

 Yajamana: Look here, my grandfather, call the truth, truth and lie, a lie. Don’t mince words. To test your  power our boy Bomma has captured the elephant. Is this good or bad for our Haadi?… Tell us if this incident is a good omen or a curse on us, our families, our ancestral spirits, our land and forests, our entire Haadi. Let us see if you really have divine power.

The Spirit:  Hah, Huh! Hey, you  non-believer, how dare you challenge my divine power? Listen, you have nothing to worry till the land swallows up the forest, the sky holds back the rain, and the burial ground gets burnt.

Yajamana: Don’t speak in riddles. The one who has caught the  elephant is still a young boy. We  should not take his actions seriously. Look into your heart and speak frankly.

The Spirit:…Beware, when one strand is pulled up, the other strand comes down.

Yanjamana: We are your children, all of us. You have to protect us from evil (204-5).

           The Spirit speaks metaphorically of  the cosmic equation that is disturbed by the ecological devastation which would lead to destruction. This is an assertion of the  eco-philosophy of the tribals, expressed through their myths and rituals.   In the second scene, the playwright shows the  way the Jenu Kuruba tribal people live close to nature. The forest provides them tubers and honey. The women folk  are  seen busy gathering  tubers  for their sustenance.

           Crisis in their peaceful co-existence in nature is disturbed by an avaricious  Heggade who wants to  take possession of their forests and exploit  their forest products and to offer it for hunting by the king of Mysore. While  Yanjamana Kencha and Bomma arrive at the  residence of Heggade with honey in exchange for clothes and food items, they are told to give him the elephant and the forest.  Heggade has Kaala from the Haadi, working for him. Bomma is ready to  part with everything  since they would be given clothes, jobs and land to cultivate. But the old Kencha remonstrates and argues on how the forest has been their home for ages.

 Kencha: Bomma, my child, our  jumma forest is the sacred grove. City folks should not come here.

Bomma: But wouldn’t they give us land to till and sow?… We would also get land to build our own houses.

Kencha: Child, isn’t the whole forest our home?… Why should we beg them for  anything? Can’t you realize that we are the kings of our forests? Who has made this sky, tell me? Who has created this forest? This blowing breeze, this flowing stream, this flying bird, this tuber we eat?… Who gives food, water and honey to us – living with the elephants, the snake and the bear, surviving under the bee hive?

Bomma: Fine, what do I care? Let us rot as we are now. Don’t we need clothes to wear? A roof over our heads? Heggade is getting richer by selling our honey and ivory from the forest and building a teak wood palace for the king…

Kencha: Don’t be a slave to your greed, Bomma (207-8).

           The conversation reveals the crisis faced by the tribals. It is not easy for them to resist the demands of Heggade, while desiring to live  under the spirit of the ancestors in the traditional way. Heggade plays his game with the help of  Kaala. His argument is that the Maharaja needs to hunt in their territory where  tigers and wild buffalos are found.

          The dramatist  also brings to focus the love relationship between Bomma and Jaaji. Bomma intents to marry her, while  Kariya woes her to marry him instead. The rivalry between the two men will be used by Heggade  to strengthening his machinations. After the marriage of Bomma and Jaaji, Heggade decides to kill Jaaji and  the headman Kencha, with the assistance of Kaala.

          In scene ten Heggade plans his timber business  with Kaala. He managed to get Bomma to assist him to transport timber. There is ever increasing  demand for ivory and timber from the neighbouring  states. They decide to get all the workers of Kencha into  their camp to get hold of the forest. Heggade finds the old man Kencha coming on his way. Since he cannot get him replaced as the headman of the tribals, he decides to plot his killing.

 Heggade: … After we offer the presents to the Maharaj, nothing is left for us. This Bomma too dances to his tune. We must woo him to our side.

Kaala: I am not sure that he will come to our side. He won’t go against Kencha’s words.

Heggade:  Kencha’s words cannot be got rid off…Why not get rid of Kencha That is going to be tough… If anything goes wrong… the evil is known to turn back on those who initiated it (218)

 They decide to make use of the  Gejje who is well versed in witchcrafts. But, he,  being the right hand of Kencha, they  have to   bribe him to their side. Heggade decides to reduce Kencha into a mere corpse, if he is unsuccessful in getting rid of him.  Kaala tells him of the   serious development as all the people in the Haadi. People  have been  grumbling at the rapid felling of trees and killing  numerous elephants and tigers for ivory and skin. The  news of the unexpected death of a tusker, brought all the headmen of all the seven Haadis, to appease the spirit more meticulously. They use Bomma for the purpose to divide the people. Bomma, on his part, brings more honey and ivory day by day. Heggade threatens him with the  Maharaja’s rage as people have not been  giving sufficient forest products. Heggade offers Bomma better supply of food grains to improve his business along with gifts  for his child and wife. He asks him to exercise his witchcraft.

In scene 11 Bomma  dances around declaring that his wife has  become  a queen with new sarees given by Heggade. He runs around  acting as if he is chopping down trees:

 Bomma: Bend, and bow, Honne tree to the ground

Bend, bend, Beete tree, to the ground

Bend, bend, Sandalwood, to the ground

Bend, bend, Mattitree, to the ground

Bend, every bush and creeper, to the ground (220).

            He is convinced of  making easy money,  joining hands with Heggade and  leaving the company of Kencha. He decides to cast an evil spell on Kencha, to inherit riches. “…you must die. I want to  make money. I will pluck a strand of your hair when you are sleeping, and a thread from your  dhoti, and take them to the sorcerer Gejje…Oh, I have reached our forest…  Somebody has chopped off our sacred tree! Yeh, when I step inside the Jumma forest, I am on Ayya’s side. If I step outside, I am on Heggade’s side Why, I see my father here. Who as chopped him off?” 221).

          The scene shifts to invoking of the spirit and people find Bomma collapsed under the sacred tree. Kencha  invokes the spirits to save him from any harm. They invite Gaali to  cast out the spirit of his father in him.    The scene shifts to  outside Bomma’s  hut where   pregnant   Jaaji is  found resting. Kaala quietly enters to pluck out a hair and a thread from her saree for the sorcerer to cast  evil spell on her. He takes  the strands of hair and thread to the sorcerer who throws them into fire . He pierces  a female doll with a nail and fills an earthen pot with the blood of a wild buck. Kaala is told to bury it  in the place where she walks frequently. Soon  an old woman finds Jaaji collapsed on the floor.  As the people gather to revive her, Heggade’s messengers  call Bomma to go with them to the coal burning place. When he refuses to go, they threaten him to follow Heggade’s  orders. Kencha tells the messengers  about his grandson’s  body lying  in the forest, half-eaten by a tiger and Bomma and his  wife have suddenly  taken ill. The messenger informs that the Maharaja has ordered to take Bomma’s elephant to be his throne elephant. Thimma brings  further bad news of  Maharaja’s or Heggade’s  armed men   chopping away all the trees in the sacred burial grove. Bomma decides to  go and take the elephant to the Maharaja while Thimma is sent to fetch the sorcerer Gejje to  break the spell  cast on Jaaji.

          Reaching the forest Bomma finds all the trees chopped and cries out: “Jaaji, they have  chopped  you away! I shouldn’t have caught the elephant. One strand goes up, and the other is pulled down. Our ancestral spirit was right” (225). When he fails to find his elephant, he offers to do sacrifice to the spirits of his ancestors. He invokes the spirits to protect the Jumma forest and to guard the honour of their Hadi.  Soon he finds his elephant and rides it back to the Hadi. When he reaches his hut, the sorcerer is at his work, but Jaaji agonises in  great pain and keeps crying, “I can’t bear the pain. I see my father. My mother is beckoning me. They have all become wandering spirits. I, too, shall become a spirit. I will die, turn into a spirit and break the neck of those who cast the spell on me” (226). Meanwhile, Bomma in desperation goads the elephant with hooks and strikes it on its feet imploring it   to crush him to death. Roaring in pain the elephant lifts its leg, but desists from crushing him. Kencha  intervenes and begs Bomma not to kill himself. He obeys and lets the elephant to flee: “Leave our Jumma land and run away. No one shall stop you, Raja, you are free. Let not Heggade or the king catch you. Run, run away…” (227).  Kencha  consoles him saying that though his wife died, he has a baby boy to heal them of the curse.

             The play climaxes in the final scene where Kencha and Bomma are seen invoking the spirit in the presence of the villagers. As the  singers keep chanting incantations, Gaali  ties the charm plate on to the ekka plant,  commanding: “Jaaji, you have to come, wherever you are. You must name the person who did this to you. Will you possess your sister? Or your brother? Or your husband?” (227). No sooner, Jaaji’s spirit  possesses Bomma who stands up gyrating. Her spirit reveals through him that it was Kaala who had betrayed them and destroyed the Haadi and chopped  away the Jumma trees.  When Gaali is asked to do  witchcraft, he  puts three drops of oil into water. Two drops dissolve, while one doesn’t. Thimma announces the arrival of Maharaja’s men coming with guns to fell trees in the grove. The Maharaja has come to hunt tigers. Kencha  orders his people to go and hug all the trees after smearing them with turmeric and vermilion and scatter around  puffed rice. He  makes a clarion call: “Come, my father and forefathers, and our guardian spirit, come in any form you like. Come as an elephant, as a wild ox, as a tiger… Come and hug the trees, every body”  (228). As they  perform the ritual and hug the trees, the invaders stand still holding their machetes.

            “Wild Fowl and a Pair of Peacocks” is a powerful  call to protect our forests as they are vital to human  existence. It  is an eye opener to  our  fragile world  encircled by ecological disaster through global warming,  pollution and deforestation. It brings environmental awareness   to make people live   eco-friendly lives,   conserving and protecting   the flora and fauna.

          The dramatist very deftly draws attention to  Ecological Ethics with its various approaches     examined from  anthropocentric, ecocentric and  theocentric approaches. The anthropocentric approach places humans at the centre of concern. Conservation of nature is primarily for human benefit and that all species and natural resources should be utilized for human progress. The ecocentric approach claims that humans are of equal value to all other life forms   (Stassen & Gushee 435). Ecologists are alarmed  by the “awareness that we have reached the age of  environmental limits, a time when consequences of human actions are damaging the planet’s basic life support systems…Either  we change our ways or we face global catastrophe, destroying much of beauty and exterminating countless fellow species in our headlong race to apocalypse” ( Glotfelty  xx).  We are  continually challenged by various green movements with their plea to save planet earth.

         The crux of the problem lies in the  deterioration of human values and the loss of  the sense of  the sacred  in  man’s reckless pursuit of  wealth  in a consumer society, spiralling  unethical exploitation of nature.  In the midst of present environmental crisis, the eco-philosophy  propounded by the dramatist  is a clarion call to  respect all things  animate and inanimate.  Such  inspiring literary creations  certainly help us to introspect on our  bounden duty to safeguard creation as responsible  stewards. 

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Works Cited:

 Bate, Jonathan.  “From ‘Red’ to ‘Green’”. The Green Studies Reader. Laurence Coupe. Ed.

       London and New York: Routledge, 2000. rpt. 2004. 

Drengson, Alan & d Yuichi Inoue, Editors. The Deep Ecology Movement: An Introductory Anthology.

      Berkeley, North Atlantic Publishers, 1995.

Glotfelty, Cheryll. “Introduction.” The Ecocritism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Glotfelty,

      Cheryll and Harold Fromm (Eds). Athens and London: University of Georgia Press,  1996, xv-xxxvii.

“Jenu Kuruba  Tribe.”  http://www.indianetzone.com/10/jenu_kuruba_tribe.htm

Narayana, Kikkeri. “Wild Fowl and a Pair of Peacocks.” Indian Literature, Sahitya Akademi’s Bi-Monthly

      Journal,No.255, Jan-Feb 2010, 201-229.

Rueckert, William. repr. “Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism.”

      The Ecocritism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Glotfelty, Cheryll and Harold Fromm

Skolimowski, Henryk. home.cogeco.ca/~drheault/ee_readings/Environmental_Ethics_ 

Society/S kolimowski“What is ecophilosophy?”Some Founding Principles. Accessed on 18 January 2010.

Stassen, G.H. & Gushee, D.P.  Kingdom Ethics.  Downers Grove, IL: IVP,  2003.      

       (Eds). Athens and London: University of Georgia Press,  1996,  105-23.