Mautak will flower

  • 30/10/2005

Mautak will flower In 1959 the lives of the Mizo people in northeast India was morphed completely by the flowering of a bamboo species called Melocanna baccifera or mautak , as they call it. It led to famine, an armed insurrection, more than 3,000 people dead and the creation of a new state, Mizoram. Here, mautak will flower again, peaking in 2006-2007.

Bamboo flowers ‘gregariously’, as scientists put it: across vast areas. Generally, most species flower gregariously at fixed intervals; all clumps including the youngest ones die after flowering, a peculiarity that exists only in bamboo. When a species flowers gregaiously, all populations of it raised from the same seed source flower at once, wherever they exist.

The event cannot be avoided. Each clump throws up hundreds of small mango-shaped seeds before dying. The abundance of seeds in moist areas then invites rats and rodents, whose fertility, as nature would have it, increases when they feed on bamboo seeds. A study by Fabian M Jaksic and Mauricio Lima, ecologists at the Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology and Biodiversity in Chile, records a clear relation between rodent outbreaks in South America since in the 16th century and bamboo flowering and high rainfall. No such study exists in India, though a record of different species flowering in Mizoram does(see: Every 48 years).

People say when mautak flowers, rat numbers turn abnormal. They run amok, quite literally. Calamity occurs after all the seeds are eaten: the rats attack granaries, fields of standing crops, paddy, fruits, vegetables, whatever is available.

It happened so in Mizoram in 1959. The Mizo people lost everything (see: “Once the rats came...”). No help came from the plains of Assam, many allege. Famished, boiling with anger at alleged discrimination, they rose in armed revolt against the state. The Mizo National Famine Front formed at the height of the famine; today it is called the Mizo National Front and the state chief minister today, Zoramthanga, is its leader as he was one of the leaders then.

He knows the threat is clear and present. In 2002-2003, 34 villages faced an increase in rodent population. In 2003-2004 another 16 witnessed it. 85 villages have already recorded sporadic mautak flowering, as per a directorate of agriculture report. But when flowering peaks in 2006-2007, a mautam

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