Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Did Tiger Take the Rain?

I was surprised and happy to get an email from Dr Charles Norris Brown, an adjunct faculty from the University of Vermont. I had been leading the Year of the Tiger campaign in WWF before leaving the organisation to join SNV Netherlands Development Organisation. He wanted to write a book about conservation and tigers.

I connected him with WWF Nepal’s communication team and went with him to hear his plans at WWF Nepal office. His plans were just plans at that time. The communication team assured him of the support for his book – but it was not possible to fund his venture.

So, Charles and I, with support of my friend Shree Narayan Chaudhary went on a whirlwind trip of western Nepal. We were lucky to find support from many other friends in the field –Nandalal Rana and Bhaktaraj Rana among others.

We visited villages in Kailali, Kanchanpur and Dang collecting stories about tigers and conservation from Tharu elders. Charles had been clicking pictures and drawing sketches of little children while jotting down the stories in his notebook – told in Tharu language, translated in English by me.

Charles, on his return to the US, spent a sizable amount of his time writing a children’s storybook based on the stories collected from the western Nepal.

He again returned to Nepal the following year to meet with the communities once again and show them the draft of the book.

After several revisions, the book ‘Did Tiger Take the Rain?’ has come out in its present form. The book is being released this October by Green Writers Press.

Cover of the book 'Did Tiger Take the Rain? Used with permission.

In his website, Charles writes:

[…] But it is not the fate of the tiger itself that raises concern. Like the ubiquitous canary in the mine, what happens to the tiger is intimately connected with what happens to the habitat in which it lives, and the habitat in which the tiger lives is, in its turn, finely connected with the sustainability of the human biosphere. As the children in the book note: we all breathe the same air.
The problem addressed by the book is that a dry and hot climate could be the result of the cutting of the forests which upsets the naturally occurring precipitation cycles. The solution: to stop cutting the forests or at least be certain that new forests are allowed to thrive. The challenge is to produce a children’s book that shows both determination in the face of obstacles as well as the hope that efforts will bear fruit in a practical way. The strategy in this book is to share a story around raising a question, then actively seeking an answer and finding a way to resolve the problem through action. The book aims to develop a story that will help children from different cultures share a means to become empowered to take action that will hopefully make the world a better place. […]

Charles, an anthropologist by profession, was an artist from young age. He earned his PhD from Lund University in Sweden in Sociology and Social Anthropology. His post-doctoral work took him from India, to Borneo, to Appalachia, and to Canada where his focus was (and still is) on people of the forests and on their place in the health of the ecosystem.

He says:

[…] The message of conservation needs to focus among communities – the people who live near the forests (and its animals such as the tiger) as well as those far away. All of us share this world with the tiger – and not only the tiger. We share this world with all living things. We breathe the same air. We feel the same wind. How could I combine my approach to anthropology with my art to create messages for children? […]

Thus, the book ‘Did Tiger Take the Rain?’ was born.

Read an excerpt of the book from Amazon.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The benefits of miracle tree 'Moringa'

The recipes and cuisines vary from place to place and get customised according to the tradition and culture. The teraibasi (the inhabitants of southern plains in Nepal), especially the Tharus, have developed unique cuisines of locally available ingredients. The recipes have been adopted by others with the passage of time but still the dishes cooked by Tharus have something special about them. For instance, they have been using flax seeds (linseed powder) to garnish the curry of snails (ghonghi), drumstick and bamboo shoots which is not common among other communities. And that makes the curry more delicious!  

While the locally available vegetables are not a big hit among Nepalis in general, slowly they are gaining popularity. One of such neglected but nutritious vegetables is drumstick.

Moringa flowers and pods

Drumstick, locally called 'munga', 'sahajan','swejan', is a superfood in the West. Moringa oleifera, one of the most useful trees, lie unattended and uncared at most of the places in the southern plains of Nepal. Nobody cares to propagate this immensely useful tree. Instead, they are uprooted and thrown away if they grow near a house – to ward off the army of caterpillars munching on the juicy leaves.

The tree branches, however, are used as bio-fences. The branches grow into trees quickly and the plant needs not much water or soil nutrients to grow. The branches can be easily lopped off and the leaves are also used as fodder for the goats. And the goats like it!

Our folks in Terai never thought of cooking the leaves although they are used in soups and curries in neighbouring India. It was always thought as poor man’s diet – only the fruits, resembling drumsticks are cooked and eaten. However, it’s becoming popular these days with the demand from urban centres. The young fruits called jokiya in local language due to its jonk (leech) like shape are lip-smacking. The ripe fruits that take triangular shape on their maturity have hard seeds and one needs to get rid of them before cooking. But still the drumstick curry is finger-licking delicious.

The wonder tree Moringa oleifera is a fast growing, drought resistant tree. The pods are source of all vitamins and minerals. It has Vitamin C seven times than that of an orange, Vitamin A four times than that of a carrot, Calcium four times than that of milk, Potassium there times than that of a banana, and protein three times than that of curd. According to Ayurveda, drumstick can cure 300 different diseases.

And still it is considered a poor man's vegetable and no one cultivates it commercially!

What a pity!