A frog near the well



It was mid September, with just an occasional light shower, for the last two months. Another month for the north-east monsoon to start. The land is dry, grass brown, and amla trees have shed their leaves.


Dry land


Dry Amla trees

A native thorn tree (Acacia) is in bloom.


Acacia thorn shrub

Prosopis juliflora (American mesquite, seemai karuvel (சீமைக்கருவேலை)) is doing good too.


Prosois juliflora

In olden days, mostly through funding from the Scandinavian countries, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, this tree was
promoted, as a good source of firewood. It was planted in lake beds, and on regular land. The seeds were eaten by cattle and it quickly spread. Apart from firewood, this plant provides nothing else. And unlike native plants, this serves no ecological purpose, although a few birds do built their nest in these trees. Now the attempt to reverse this, is as usual, through a very modern approach, of creating a mass hysteria, and then uprooting the trees on a large scale. It was planted based on a misunderstanding of the native plants, and how much wood they can provide vis-a-vis prosopis. Yes, the wood burns hot, and can be harvested every year. But many native trees, once they grow beyond a certain point, can provide lot more twigs for firewood (without coppicing). If they are harvested, when they are of the same size as prosopis, they won’t provide as much. And native trees like neem provide fruits for parrots, cuckoo, etc, seeds from which medicines and pesticides are manufactured, leaves and flowers that have medicinal and cultural value. Lots of twigs, and finally very good quality timber. Simple minded thinking has left land degraded, overrun by prosopis.


Neem trees

A neem tree or two, flourishes here. Usually land borders had lots of shrubs, and trees like neem. Birds frequent the shrubs, and when they deposit seeds along with their poop, the fence becomes more dense. The trees don’t break out, and grow fast, they remain small. But today there are only barbed-wire fences, you can look out and see the farms a few kilometres away. Live fences are regarded as a nuisance, sometimes because the neighbours cannot decide which tree belongs to whom. They don’t see the greater value, in having this life on the borders.

Here’s a cactus like plant, that is usually planted on borders.


Cactus plant


Cactus plant with hole in its trunk

The fruits are ripening on palmyra trees. This is the state tree of Tamil Nadu.


Palmyra tree closeup


Palmyra tree with fruits

Apparently the tree has 801 uses, yes that is eight hundred and one. Right now it is mostly tapped for making jaggery. One can get toddy, a mild liquor, too. The toddy is also used for fermenting batter, used to make food like paniyaram or appam (pancake). In fact, in the initial stages of the British empire in India, western style bread, used toddy. Fresh toddy, is almost like coconut water, and is highly nutritious. The wild yeasts make it probiotic, rich in B-complex vitamins. A few hours, it becomes mildly alcoholic, and if left in the open for too long, acetic acid fermentation happens, and it turns sour. Some people are fighting to make this legal, to package and sell it. Not a good idea. Packaged toddy doesn’t have the health benefits and richness of fresh toddy. In Kerala, however, they do sell toddy from coconut trees.

People here climb the trees naturally, without any equipment, except for a small ring that holds the feet together, and probably helps the legs to grip the tree. Unlike Cambodia, or Burma, people don’t use bamboo ladders, or other attachments. The ring is not essential, a person climbs up, almost at the pace of a brisk walk. Since alcohol  is regulated, not many people climb the trees fearing harassment from the police.
If the pots that collect sap from the inflorescence, are coated with lime, then the sap remains sweet, and does not ferment. Boiled into a dark syrup, it is poured into coconut shells (moulds), and becomes jaggery. Good quality jaggery costs Rs 200 a kg, but the unfortunate thing, is most of the jaggery that comes to the city is fake. Made from white sugar, with a little palmyra jaggery, or other additive to make it dark. This jaggery is very important for sweetening traditional medicine. It is also used for alcoholic extraction, of herbal enzymes in fermented ayurvedic (asava and arishta) and siddha products. We have gone gaga over western medicines, while ignoring our deep cultural past, that understood the use of fermentation to make herbal decoctions of enhanced therapeutic value.

There is another kind of enhancement with Alcohol, of the TASMAC variety. Coolies after a hard day’s labour, without much money in hand, fall for the easy temptations of alcohol. But bigger issue is this, western medicines like chrocin, paracetamol, (or tylenol, ibuprofen, various anti-depressants) damage the liver. Combined with alcohol, they become ten times more damaging. Doctors write sob stories, of how a poor guy damaged his liver through drink, never mentioning that taking pills for headache, fever, and then drinking, makes the “medicine” very dangerous. If one can’t stop drinking, it is safer and easier to avoid pills. Ahh, our insecure doctors of western medicine! Not easy to jump out of the wells of ignorance, and deception. Today liver transplants are big business.

Coconut trees that died over the last couple of years, from poor rains, are a good source of bugs for the woodpeckers. There is one on the tree.


Dead coconut trees


Woodpecker with red crescent

A wasp, possibly prospecting for wet soil, to use for it’s nest.



There are snakes around. Hard to see, but there are signs – of skins shed. There is one in a hole in the ground, too shy for the camera. A cobra perhaps.


Snake skin


Snake skin on a tree

With the pump on, water in the channels provided a respite from the heat, for these babblers.


Babblers having bath

A frog jumped from somewhere onto the plastic outlet pipe, from the pump. There it was, a frog near the well, well-versed in the ways of the human world.
A heavy rain, the frogs would be out croaking with all their might. Kids would get to see tadpoles among various other things wriggling in the water. But that was in the past. The brave new world of precision agriculture, chemical fertilisers, and pesticides ended all that. Modern agriculture doesn’t have space for edges, no hidden spaces, decaying leaves, and twigs, no weeds, and mosquitoes, no water that soaks the land more fully. It has no space for life. Replaced by rigid rules, linear equations, bug hysteria, water just for the “roots of crops”, endless “improvements”, higher “efficiency” and bigger numbers.
The frog paused, its wet skin glistening. It carried no UN mandated global ID (Agenda 2030), or followed the rules of Transparency International. It participated in no elections, to elect an errand boy, who will sign away its life and soul, for some global agenda of hidden elites. The frog hopped and disappeared into the underbrush. The Gods smiled. This was no frog in the well.


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