Babool mora

Wajid Ali Shah wrote the words of the famous thumri, Babul mora, in Kolkata, after the British East India Company, then an empire in all but name, exiled him from Awadh. It has been sung by all the luminaries of classical music since. I heard Bhimsen Joshi singing it in the usual Raag Bhairavi when he was considered a future star, but since then I’ve also heard a rare recording of Ustad Faiyaz Khan singing it. The version by Kundan Lal Sehgal is so famous that Google’s AI concludes that the song is due to him. But Kishori Amonkar, Kesarbai Kerkar, Begum Akhtar, Rajan and Sajan Mishra, and even Jagjit and Chitra Singh have wonderful versions available on the net. But it is not that song of loss and parting that this post is about.

I wanted to show you a couple of varieties of babool (Acacia) among the many I saw in Bera. Babool is the typical dry land plant: often a short tree, just over three meters tall, sometimes a mere bush. Of the many that I saw, I seem to have taken many photos of the babool (Vachellia nilotica indica). That extremely widespread plant is what you see in the featured photo. The other is the white babool (Vachellia leucophloea, also called white-bark Acacia). There were numerous other plants of the Mimosacaea family, even the Acacias, but I seem to have missed photographing them. Loss and regret, just as in Wajid Ali Shah’s thumri.

White bark acacia

The forest department is meant to conserve ecology. Unfortunately, they interpret their job to mean they are supposed to grow forests. As a result, they are changing the desert scrub ecology of the Rann of Kutch by planting white bark acacia (Vachellia leucophloea). These plants have nitrogen fixing nodules in their roots, which are useful when you want to green a desert. That may be part of the reason why the forest department likes it. This acacia also grows naturally in other parts of the Thar desert. So, maybe, this experiment is not as bad as the one carried out in the 1970s, when the desert was seeded by the exotic mesquite Prosopsis juliflora. But the Rann of Kutch is a special habitat, and reduing the space for its distinctive flora and fauna creates a sudden change in ecology which will have effects that we cannot predict. But then, maybe none of this matters. Maybe the rising seas will reclaim the Rann very soon.

On our last evening’s attempt to spot birds in the Rann, I found myself quite distracted by the greenery. We walked gingerly between the trees, but there was little to see. You see a typical stand of white bark acacias here: spindly trunks with white bark spreading out a little above your head. The older bark turns rough and dark as the tree ages. The canopy is full of the typical feathery mimosa leaves. The flowers are very interesting, as you can see in the slideshow above. The dense round collection of white flowers are called glomerules, and they grow in a multiply branched stem called a panicle. That picture does a good job of explaining the words.

But there were too many trees, and the birds were avoiding this place. We moved away into the open land and were immediately rewarded by multiple sightings: silverbills, larks, warblers, robins, flycatchers. A single bird came and sat on a branch of a tree right at the edge of the open scrub. It was the grey-necked bunting (Emberiza buchanani) that you see in the photo above. In the setting sun and against the bright green background its drab brown plumage looks red.

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