BAMBOOZLED BY BAMBOO
It is not a tree as many think. It’s a grass and the tallest grass in the world. And it’s the bamboo, the plant of the sub-family Bambusidae. China, the world’s biggest user of the plant was once considered to be hiding behind the ‘bamboo curtain”. Yet, this piece is not about the uses of bamboo but to touch upon an eco-socialogical trick it plays right atour doorsteps – in Mizoram.
Mizoram is a state where naturally growing bamboo forests are prevalent. Once in 48 years, there occurs a simultaneous flowering of almost all bamboo plants, a phenomenon called ‘gregarious flowering”. Large clusters of bamboo flowers bloom in the month of October. This, by December, leads to huge supply of bamboo seeds strewn all across the forest floor which attracts hundreds of thousands of rats. These rats thrive on abundant supply of seeds and breed into a mighty army of pestilence. But when the rains start in May/June, the residual seeds sprout leaving the rats famished. Desperate for food, the teeming multitude of rodents raid the standing crops and granaries. This in turn leads to a famine of immense proportions.
The social fallout of any famine is too familiar to need elaboration. The social unrest and political upheavals follow this stage. The last time it happened in 1959-60, it fomented insurgency led by Mr. Laldenga which ultimately resulted in carving out of Mizoram from the state of Assam.
The next Great Bamboo Flowering is expected in 2007-08.