plants dying of frostbite in bangalore?

It is amazing, but that’s what happened. And, I hope this teaches me humility, seriously.

A few weeks back – to be precise, on the evening of 14th April, 2010, we had a sudden thunderstorm and a heavy squall in our suburb of Bangalore. And for 20 minutes or so, there was this hailstone business (ice pebbles of the size of 1 – 2.5 cms diameter, on an average) pounding on everything that was exposed to the elements – and to assist it, there were these incredibly howling high velocity winds! In and around the place where we live, tin and asbestos roofs developed gaping holes, many compound walls were smashed, many decade old trees were uprooted, oh the danse macabre.

I experienced some of this too. The incipient terrace vegetable garden of mine got completely wiped out. No vines. No plantain trees. No sugarcane. No beans. Nothing. Only the sad remnants of dead vegetation…

How? First, the hailstones poked and punctured holes in all the leaves & slender branches – systematically and relentlessly at that. And then, the mountains of re-solidifying ice around the stems of the plants saw to it that the plants & young trees were mercilessly euthanized in a few minutes. All this while, I was busy assessing damage to the skylight, preventing the water from the terrace from flowing into the stairwell and then into our dwelling / library etc etc. So, by the time I got around to attending to the freezing plants, it was already too late for the hapless ones.

Again, for the ground-level patches and vegetation, it was a similar story.

The plastic roofs can be mended. But the plants cannot be. They were brave victims of force majeure or casus fortuitus if you will, what else.

Considering the fact that many days of toil had been put-in (oh the sunk opportunity costs), along with hunting around for open pollinated seeds, It is hard to accept this turnout of events – but,  this event did teach me some humility, I suppose!

Luckily, I also preserve seeds and for all the cultivars that I have, so there is hope. So, not all is lost! It will of course take a significant amount of time to restore the patches, but then, the gardening activity is heavily therapeutic for me. Anyway, after a lapse of 3 weeks of mental fogginess, today, I have finally started clearing the fallen banana trees…

Of course, I don’t depend on the garden produce for my living. But many folks aren’t that lucky. I could imagine the plight of orchard owners (and produce lessees) in this area. The mango, sappota, banana and guava trees – all have been hit in my neighborhood. Most of the fruits, if at all they are still left hanging, will eventually rot because they have been heavily damaged by the hailstorm. In just twenty odd  minutes, a significant part of the affected folks’ livelihoods have been lost.

Our acquaintances tell us of horror stories of entire fields of standing (and ready to harvest) crops getting decimated because of a similar hailstorm, at around the same time – of all places, near the hot & arid Mandanapalle in Andhra Pradesh! The affected farmers are small and marginalized ones – trying to eke out a living… Really sad.

However, they shall overcome too!

In the related context of snowfalls & blizzards – I recall various episodes in the very interesting & fascinating Little House on The Prairie book series of Laura Ingalls Wilder. And hats off to these (early American) pioneers for braving all odds, and ultimately triumphing. They not only survived, but thrived!

(The children, of course, had a whale of a time – collecting pail after pail of ice pebbles – accompanied by peels of delightful laughter. It is so fantastic to see the pebbles fall from the sky – even from a jaded adult point of view, in spite of the hail’s other mundane consequences; oh the feeling of awe that creates!)

As Richard P. Feynman said once:  “Anyone who has been in a thunderstorm has enjoyed it, or has been frightened by it, or at least has had some emotion. And in those places in nature where we get an emotion, we find there is generally a corresponding complexity and mystery about it.”

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