Jun 7, 2009
Gulagunji or manjutti also known as Tula Beeja or Weather plant, the pea-sized small red wonder seed with that tiny black beauty spot is familiar to all those who had a rural background during their childhood. Collecting and playing with these brightly coloured seeds were common for children and there are instances of children putting them in their nostrils with some disastrous consequences. In the good old days when proper weighing measures were not available gold was measured against gulgunjis and thus deriving the name Tula beeja. But many of us may not be aware that there are as many as 12 coloured Gulagunjis and that the plant has curative properties for asthma, leprosy and nervous disorder. Research by J C Bose and other scientists has revealed that by fixing certain instruments to this plant it is possible to predict volcano eruptions and hence the name weather plant. The botanical name for this is Indian Liquorice.
This is just one example to show that we are endowed with rich ecological wealth, about which people are ignorant. Dinesh Nayak Vitla of Sassya Shamala fame is the one-man- army who has been trying hard to create the much needed awareness about plants, trees, shrubs, roots and flowers and make known their medicinal value to the common people. The two-day plant photo exhibition held in SDM Law College hall in the city in association with Mangalore Special Economic Zone (MSEZ) as part of the World Environment Day was an effort in his endeavor to create consciousness among people and also provide them an opportunity to clear their doubts and wrong information on plant species.
Explaining his motto of conducting the exhibition Dinesh Nayak, the silent crusader who has been doing a yeoman’s service in the field of protecting our natural wealth said “many people cannot identify the real plants and there is confusion about their names. Naga Sampige is usually mistaken for Nagalinga Pushpa and similarly Ashok tree is mistaken for ornamental Ashoka tree usually planted on roadsides or parks. Photographs of plants and exhibitions of plants/shrubs is an attempt to do away with the confusion from the minds of people”. Dinesh is also advising those who are interested in plants and trees on what to grow and what not so that whatever little space people have is utilized to the maximum.
The photographs exhibited here is like a journey into the wonder world of plants around us. The eye-catching photographs are not only pleasing to the eyes but also are informative. The local and botanical names of the plants/trees and their medicinal use are written in bold letters at the side of the enlarged photographs. This was the first large scale exhibition organized by Dinesh Nayak in Mangalore which was made possible by MSEZ sponsorship. He is happy with the response the exhibition has elicited where nearly 400 samplings were distributed freely to enthusiasts. “Even personnel from the Forest Department have come and taken some of the rare plant collections I have”, says this soft-spoken self-taught environmentalist who is obsessed with the nature and the rich and unique plant diversity we have.
A photographer by interest Dinesh’s tryst with tress and plants began 12 years back. He father Das Srinivas Nayak was an avid nature lover who enjoyed planting varieties of trees and plants. It was from his father Dinesh developed a bonding that has become stronger with each passing day. In Vitla he started a NGO named Sassya Shamala in the 1990’s which has been very active in planting trees and creating green consciousness among the citizens. Thanks to his Herculean efforts today that entire Vitla has transformed into Sasya Shamala. By now Dinesh has acquired some knowledge about plants and trees and he even began contributing write ups on plants or flowers with suitable photography.
With his natural interest in photography Dinesh began capturing any interesting plant or flower he came across. At the same time he tried to grasp more knowledge about the plant from the locals who know about it. To his good luck researchers and even students began approaching him for the botanical or Sanskrit names of certain plants and trees which naturally endeared him to research about the plant variety. A University student wanted to know the botanical name of Chakotha and Dinesh found out that it is the biggest fruit in the citrus family and is named Citrus Maxima. Chagte plant (Thojank in Tulu and Thaikulo in Konkani) which grows in the open area following few showers of rain, has two varieties and larger one is known as Elephanta Cassia Tora.
After all this information if one believes that Dinesh owes acres of land to collect and conserve endangered and rare plant species then it is going to be totally wrong. He lives in a rented house and owns no land. But he has set up such a protective umbrella all around him by his generous distribution of plants and trees, the beneficiaries reward him suitably with plants and fruits he has no dearth for the same to distribute. Dinesh had given seeds of Naga Sampige to a person who had come asking for it to prepare oil to get rid of a nagging skin allergy. The same person who used the seeds came to thank him saying the medicine worked wonders for the allergy. Similarly Elephant Cassia Tora (Aane Chagte) juice mixed with lemon is a wonder cure for ringworm. After reading his article a person used it on his dog which was suffering from the disease for long. He called up Dinesh to thank him. This way Dinesh has emerged as knowledge bank on the medicinal values of plants.
He has now made it his mission to create more awareness among the people about the medicinal values of the plants around us and also to conserve endangered and plants which are on the verge of extinction. “Yellow Punarpuli (Binda) botanically known as Garcinia Indica is on the list of extinction. Wild mangoes, those mouth watering luscious mangoes grown in the wild are also disappearing. I am trying to plant these trees in the green belt area of SEZ”, he says with his characteristic grin.
Dinesh is the advisor to the green belt area proposed to be set up in around 600 acres of land by MSEZ and as such has found a proper forum to give vent to his dream of conserving the rich ecological diversity of this area. In collaboration with MSEZ he is bent upon using the land for planting about 3 lack endangered and endemic plants and trees in the next four years. Suresh Tantri, Horticulture Manager of MSEZ says with the active involvement of Dinesh Nayak the task of developing green belt has taken a new perspective. MSEZ has also been getting help from National Medicinal Plant Board in conserving endangered plants, Tantri stated. Modinde Cytrifolia (Indian Noni), Pride of India or queen’s flower, dancing butterflies, Musua Nagassarium (nagasampige) etc., are some of the names I learnt as I browsed through the exhibition of plants.
Dinesh is overwhelmed by the response he received for the exhibition and feels that there is a welcome change in the perspectives of the people towards trees and plants. Dinesh has adopted a non-controversial stand of planting more trees rather than crying hoarse over felling of trees. “The trees or plants we plant should be beneficial to humans, animals and birds and it should also provide a variety of fruits. That is going to be the focus in developing the green belt”, he asserts.
Dinesh has more than 1000 photographs of different plant species. He has made it a habit to gift plants and trees to his friends and acquaintances. I got my share too in the course of interviewing him.