The Alien Invasion
The other day, I was rather amused to see my nephew hysterically fiddling with the keyboard. He was completely absorbed in thwarting an Alien Invasion on his computer. While kids are crazy about computer games, computer games drive me crazy; the psychedelic lights, funny sounds and obnoxious animations.
Now supposing one of those PYTs, of the umpteen music channels, were moving around the town asking people “ Hi! I am Phalana Dhikana .Can you tell me what an alien invasion is?”. I am sure the majority of the interviewees would talk about Extra Terrestrials, in their blinking UFO, attacking our planet; and Hollywood and Bollywood teaming up to combat ‘the axis of evil’.
Such is the encroachment of science fiction in the landscape of popular imagination! The good news is, all this ET/ Aliens is nothing but lot of mumbo-jumbo. It is not really different from the Occult vision of Ojhas, medicine men and shamans of different ancient, tribal and religious traditions.
Now the bad news; our planet, our country, in fact our city and even our neighborhood is already in the midst of a terrible alien invasion. The bad news further is that we are being harmed by the aliens; and I am not through yet; the worst part, no one, no one at all is doing anything about it.
Before this piece is dismissed as sensationalism, it is suggested that the reader please take a stroll around a near by park or garden. The monsoon showers have resurrected the greenery; so look around carefully, in the midst of the greenery grows the Congress grass (Parthenium). It is easy to recognize its carrot like leaves and number of dot like white flowers. This is an alien which has wroth havoc almost every where in the country.
Congress grass (Parthenium)
The Congress grass has posed a real nuisance to our country. This plant is originally from South America. How it has reached here is not very clear but like all other exotics (foreign plants) it has spread like wild fire.
Now I would like to delve a wee bit on the word ‘Exotic’. Exotic means something alien, non indigenous but this word has supplanted ‘beautiful ’in popular parlance. So we have writers referring Goa, Kerala and Rajasthan as exotic destinations. This is incorrect. Please use exotic for foreign and non-indigenous things and places.
Congress grass has many other allies but before we get to know them, let me tell you how their ‘tribe is increasing’. These exotics have no natural control in our country. The fact is that insects feed on plants and maintain the balance of nature. But the exotics are not consumed by our indigenous insects. Even our cattle, one of the most voracious gluttons, dislike them and so they spread unresisted and unchecked.
We witnessed one of the most terrible summers this year. It sapped our energies; even our flora withered, but any observant person would have seen the congress grass ‘blooming’ in our neighborhood parks, gardens, roadside, rail side and countryside.
The congress grass has spread by the human folly. It has gained a favorable environment by thriving in similar conditions as in its home country, but without natural control. Then through its unchecked growth it edges out our indigenous grasses and vegetation. So we are being stripped of our rich biodiversity. It also infests our agricultural land and thus retards the yield of our crops. But does it affect us the city dwellers. Yes it does, it is responsible for allergies and asthma.
This terrible plant has become so common, that people do not recognize it as an alien. I was talking to a group of kids about this plant on World Environment Day(5th June) and they were so surprised that so common a plant could be an obnoxious exotic.
Besides the congress grass there are several other aliens which are which are destroying our environment.. Our wetlands (waterbodies) are of immense ecological value. Wetlands are reservoirs of water; they recharge our ground water; and they support a diverse flora and fauna. In fact the villagers are dependent on these wetlands for survival and livelihood. Besides these wetlands are beautiful places of great scenic value.
Aliens have established their dictatorial rule over almost all the wetlands. These aliens are Ipomoea and Water Hyacinth.
There are people who are too keen to have a unique collection of potted plants. Well some hundred years ago one of their British peer got a Water hyacinth plant from South America for decorating his garden pond; while the British were forced to leave our country, the descendants of that Water Hyacinth have enslaved all our wetlands: soaking our water, killing our aquatic vegetation, strangulating our fishes and thus crippling our rural economy.
Likewise another alien, Ipomoea has also spread on and near our wetlands. In fact it is a greater nuisance. This is because while water hyacinth is a free floating plant and thus can be cleaned with less effort, ipomoeas has fixed roots which cling to the soil . Cleaning ipomoeas is a costly and painstaking exercise.
There are two other aliens which are threatening to ruin our already scanty forest cover.
Our forest department took up the task of re-greening the country by planting Prosopis juliflora, locally called Vilayati babool as it resembles Our Indian balbool(Acacia Nilotica). But this now turned out to be the biggest pest of our countryside. It is a sickly looking shrub with sharp thorns; wherever it grows there is no chance for the survival of any other tree. The places where it is planted is soon converted into stretches of Prosopis Villagers loose their land; the cattle in no way eat the leaves because the thorns can wound their mouth. At best the wood of Prosopis can be used as fuel but cutting it is so cumbersome that villagers leave it alone; cursing the forest department for their ‘brilliant plantation drive’.
The other alien is the Lantana. This too is a shrub and like the prosopis it is choking our woodlands and other indigenous flora. It has spread even inside the National Parks. Thus not merely do we loose our flora, and the food base of our fauna especially Deer and Antelopes is adversely affected.
This article has not emanated from the pen of a doomsday prophet; it is a reality that demands our attention and action. Our government, DRDO and our army have a strategy to diffuse an NBC(Nuclear, Biological & Chemical) attack. But what has the government done to tackle this biological war unleashed by an Alien invasion? Perhaps the government is not even aware about the enormity of this problem. And as usual, we the insensitive citizens of India are completely oblivious of this important issue that affects the life of just about everyone of us
Ignorance is never blissful; and if the government is not bothered, we must do some thing. Karavan Heritage and Nature Society proposes to launch a deweeding drive instead of the usual and ritual tree plantation drives. We are working to ruthlessly clear the Congress Grass that plagues our neighborhood. We plan to collect the congress grass and burn it. There seems to be no other solution to this menace.
Karavan has been working to educate and mobilize villagers for clearing the water bodies and wetlands of Ipomoeas and water hyacinth. Ipomeas can be used as fire wood but water hyacinth can be dried and converted into a bio-fertilizer.
Village ladies weave baskets out of lantana and some NGOs in the Kumaon region have claimed to make furniture out of Lantana. But at this point of time it seems more experimentation needs to be done with lantana as a raw material for furniture. Karavan hopes that in course of time lantana too will be tamed for human use.
The forest department is entirely responsible for creating the Prosopis mess and as such it is expected of the department that now they sanction funds for prosopis clearance(short term thinking has caused a colossal waste of both human effort and financial resources!)
Finally we can not look towards the sky for controlling this alien invasion or hope that Nature will come up with its own solution. This ostrich like attitude will worsen the problem. All of us; city-dwellers and villagers, NGOs, forest department need to act in concert against this deadly enemy.