By Atul Sathe
Environment has become a clichéd topic today even as people increasingly believe that its conservation is and should be of foremost importance. But to conserve something one should know it first. And even for those who are not in a position to play their role in conservation, being in company of nature is a soothing, rejuvenating and even a spiritually blissful experience. But again to experience something one needs to be exposed to the same.
This is where our story begins because being in company of nature is not an easy thing for most weary and busy urban Indians today. While many people living in rural areas – particularly farmers and others engaged in occupations related to the soil – are still connected to the natural world, the teaming millions of our urban and semi-urban areas have largely lost touch with Mother Earth. This lack of connect with nature can be attributed to two reasons; viz. severe shrinkage of our natural habitats and the fast changing extremely consumerist lifestyles of our people wherein they are engrossed with their mobiles, malls, multiplexes, fine-dine restaurants, exotic vacations and other benchmarks of ‘development’. While these things are not bad per say, an excessive indulgence in them takes one away from the natural world and also depletes the natural resources.
Interestingly, in seemingly crowded concrete jungles, there still are some surviving oases of greenery in all cities. And as they say, the beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. If we have developed the tendency to observe and appreciate the natural world, then it is never far from us. After this lengthy introduction, let me take the reader straight to the sylvan surroundings of the Bajaj Group premises in Akurdi, near Pune.
A green heaven
The Bajaj Group has two premises in Akurdi on either side of the old Pune-Mumbai highway. The larger one is the Bajaj Auto factory campus abutting the highway, while the smaller one is the Jankidevi Bajaj Gram Vikas Sanstha (JBGVS) that also houses the Samaj Seva Kendra. The former actually looks like a forest from a distance due to the thick canopy of the tall trees (both native and exotic), many of which are about 50 years old or more.
As one enters the main gate from the highway side, one is greeted by the chequered closed canopy of Rain Trees (Vilayati Shirish) that line both sides of the road. The little pieces of blue sky seen through the patchwork of leaves in this natural roof about 50 feet above the head make a beautiful design. The severity of the Deccan summer is immediately reduced by about 3-4 degrees as one walks under these trees, while in winter a walk here in the morning or evening gives a real experience of the chill.
Inside, many open spaces are covered by manicured lawns of a type of Elephant Grass. Recycled waste water is used to nurture this green carpet. At some places inside the campus, the road sides are lined with rows of Mast Trees (Asupalav) that have grown over three-storey tall and have spread out their branches to an extent. Some of the internal roads have the equally tall and majestic Indian Rosewood (Sisoo/Shisav) on both sides.
The ubiquitous Flamboyant Tree (Gulmohar) and Copper Pod (Sonmohar) and the native Indian Coral Tree (Pangara) that display their crimson, yellow and red blossoms respectively in spring are also frequently seen. The tall and stately evergreen Blackboard Trees (Saptaparni) are a sight to behold as they stand in all their grandeur, which is enhanced with greenish white bunches of flowers in their blooming season.
In the vicinity of the canteen, one can see medium sized Sita Ashok trees, which boast of bright red and orange bunches of flowers that attract the attention of employees. This species has a lot of medicinal significance, particularly for women.
Some areas have Bottle Palms standing like sentries, while others have the Bottlebrush Trees, whose branches resemble the long brushes used to clean the insides of bottles. Occasionally Coconut and Mango trees remind the staff of the verdant coastal region of Konkan.
The scene on the other side of the highway – in JBGVS campus – is like a trailer of the movie described above. Located in a quiet residential neighbourhood, it evokes memories of a tranquil small town.
As one enters this campus, one is greeted by three dwarf specimens of Benjamin Fig in the centre and a huge specimen of Mahogany on the left side of the gate. On the right side of the gate the dark pink variety of Bougainvillea creeper drapes the entire compound wall. Coconut and Bottle Palm stand tall in the background, while the delicate flowers on potted plants of Periwinkle (Sadafuli) and Moon Beam (Tagar) decorate both sides of the main entrance of the building.
The evergreen Mango and Jambhul trees stand in close proximity to the building whose dense green foliage is soothing in all seasons. These gentle giants blossom in winter and just a week ago the atmosphere was fragrant with the profuse bunches of off-white Mango flowers.
On one side of the JBGVS building is an extensive patch of lawn, which is hemmed on the outer side with several trees of Silver Oak, a gigantic Rain Tree, a couple of Gulmohar and Sonmohar and a decently big Orchid Tree or Kanchan (called so because its big pink flowers resemble an orchid). Near the entrance to the lawn, a Coral Jasmine (Parijatak) tree showers the ground below with its dainty orange and white flowers every morning.
An Indian Almond (Deshi Badam) tree with its spreading branches provides good shade and the cup shaped dark orange flowers of a towering African Tulip (Pichkari) look as if somebody has decked it up with lanterns. The shrub of Jammy Mouth with its saffron-red flowers further adds to the charm of the campus.
With such tree diversity crowding the surroundings, it is but natural that many species of birds have made the locality their home. Apart from the excessively numerous House Crows and Blue Rock Pigeons, about 25 bird species are commonly seen or heard in this locality.
Employees like me who come early in the morning are daily greeted with the joyous whistles of Common Myna in JBGVS premises. From some leafy branch the single notes of Magpie Robin (Dayal) add a really sweet tone to these morning greetings. The mysterious calls of Greater Coucal (Bharadwaj) simultaneously reverberate through the cool atmosphere.
Both in the morning and the evening and at times throughout the day, the cute little Tailor Bird (Shimpi) keeps chirping and jumping on the branches of Coral Jasmine and other small trees. Sometimes three to four of these birds are seen together. On peaceful afternoons, the metallic notes of Coppersmith Barbet (Tambat) catch the attention of even the lay man, as the chubby bird keeps calling at intervals of every 30 seconds.
Noisy flocks of five to six Rose-ringed Parakeets often fly over the two-storey building of JBGVS with their flashy green colours in contrast against the sky. Recently I saw the nimble Ashy Prinia (Rakhadi Vatvatya) hopping on the boughs of the Benjamin Fig trees, even as a Plain Prinia trilled in the distance. Red-vented Bulbul with its dark chocolate colour is also a frequent visitor.
The call of Iora (Subhag) – a typical forest bird – really amazed me one day. Birds adapt very well to semi-altered surroundings. Adding to this amazement is a flock of Jungle Babblers (Satbhai), which call from the shrubs and sometimes fly high up to settle briefly on the terrace parapets of neighbouring buildings. Winter is the season when the small raptor (predatory bird) called Shikra is conspicuous with its shrill calls. These are often confused with the shriller calls of the Black Drongo (Kotwal), which are also heard here regularly.
A nulllah, which was once a natural stream, flows bordering the campus. Although dirty water now flows in this channel, several bird species still find it useful. At least half a dozen Pond Herons (Vanchak) are to be seen here with their dull grey-brown backs in contrast with their white wings when spread out. Next to them the dazzling beauty called White-throated Kingfisher is seen sitting on a low branch waiting for some titbit to flow past.
Once I saw a Yellow Wagtail (Dhobi) on the bed of this nullah continuously wagging its tail, true to its name. There is a leafless tree nearby that is frequented by Black Kites who perch on its bare branches, possibly for getting a clear ‘bird’s eye view’ of small prey both on land and in the nullah. Their high-pitched calls regularly reveal their presence to the staff engrossed in office work without even looking outside the window.
The Bajaj Auto campus on the other side of the highway naturally supports more avian diversity due to its expanse and more tree cover. Most of the species mentioned above occur in larger numbers there. Plus, I have come across at least four others in this leafy fastness.
The most notable bird of this locality is Indian Grey Hornbill (Karda Dhanesh), which is regularly seen on the old Peepal trees near the parking lot. The whistling calls of sometimes three to four birds together are very noticeable. They can be seen jumping from branch to branch as well as gracefully flying away to distant trees. This bird is also occasionally seen and heard on the big Rain Tree in JBGVS campus and sometimes heard right next to the highway itself. Once I saw three of them calling from a medium-sized Neem tree next to the same highway, but in the far distant locality of Khadki Cantonment.
The slender Green Bee-eater (Veda Raghu) is seen flying in random flocks of seven to eight birds in Bajaj Auto campus in search of insects. Their brownish green bodies with the long central tail feathers jutting out at the end dive unsteadily in the sky. In the relatively open areas of the premises, calls of Red-wattled Lapwing (Titvi) are periodically heard, indicating that this bird of the grassland and scrubland has also made its home in this quiet locality.
Other fauna and beyond
In such an extensive area that not only has big and small trees, but also myriad shrubs and herbs, along with lots of open soil covered surfaces, even other forms of life like reptiles and mammals are bound to occur, although in limited numbers. Some employees mention having seen various species of snakes, which they could not identify, while the presence of Common Mongoose is also talked about.
This narrative attempts to bring to the notice of the urban reader that a decent biodiversity is still to be found amongst our maddeningly congested cities in islands of peace, sometimes in corporate premises like that of Bajaj Group and at times in other areas like farmlands (on the outskirts), municipal land, defence land and areas covered by water bodies like rivers, streams and lakes. It is time we urban dwellers start responding to the stimuli from the natural world received by our five senses and take time out from our so-called busy schedules to observe, understand, appreciate and enjoy this beauty. Perhaps, along with the momentary pleasure received by being in company of nature, we may also embark upon our journey of self-discovery through such rendezvous with Mother Nature.
( Atul Sathe, the author works as the Communication Officer at Jankidevi Bajaj Gram Vikas Sanstha and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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