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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