Barefoot Notes: Bhoolandara

Bhoolandara is not what you think it is. If you know Hindi, you might guess that it has something to do with bhoolna (meaning, to forget, or to go astray). If you think it means doorway-to-forget-things, you’re pretty close, but not exactly.

There is a phenomena called going-in-circles when lost in a forest, I don’t think it has any specific English name (in Maharashtra it is called chakwa, in Madhya Pradesh Bhoolandara), but research has concluded that we intend to walk in a circle if we’re lost without the sense of direction; why or how, we’re still figuring that out.

I’ve never been lost in a forest in true sense, once a friend and I took an off-beaten track with the intentions of exploring something unexplored, but we ended up in a village where we had began. On this occasion, though, we were truly lost – and I might say hopelessly.

Dayal (the one who taught us the Mahua vegetable recipe!) and I went off into the forests to explore the monsoon flora and fauna one fine Saturday morning. And we didn’t return on the time we intended to.
Dayal contemplating one of the many dead-end paths.
We counted countless mushrooms, fresh under a humid Sal forest, and we saw scorpions black as night. Spiders here hung low from their webs, with some content with the meal they had secured. If you’ll allow me, I’d have called it Mirkwood, and the spiders the breed of Ungoliant, and the maze a curse laid long ago upon this fell lands. But it was none of this – contrary to what I just said, we were enjoying the haunted woods.
Although not much is known about millipedes, they are our forests' prominent
decomposers, and feed on organic litter in the undergrowth.
After an hour of explorations, we realized we were slightly off-track. And we walked in search of the path in a maze of other man-made and animal-made paths. The river roared in the distance. The jungle sank in. Our feet slipped on the mud, so we removed our chappal to tread barefoot.
Habenaria commelinifolia, a ground orchid which is considered rather rare in
Central India's Kanha, is a beautiful reminder that getting lost to the tunes of forests
is a way to get lost in the forest.
I, and Dayal so very kindly, stopped to photograph a mushroom or two which we thought would make a nice sabzi. And we saw ground orchids in their purest whites.

Then it happened. We walked our first round in a circle. I panicked, and requested Dayal to walk behind me as I hunted, literally, the footprints of people. We walked a new path now, with thin impressions of footprints, and came alongside the river. We knew this to be our beloved Jamunia that I’ve sang about. She was in her feistiest avatar. A thunderstorm had left behind a tangle of trees along the banks, and tones of sand and mud. We went by the bank in the hopes of crossing over it – and sank to our knees. It was not worth risking the river’s swell.
A heavy downpour of two nights ago had settled large amounts of silt and sand along the banks of an otherwise silent
Jamunia River.
Both of us resisted speaking it first, but I broke the ice by telling Dayal we were lost. Dayal finally agreed, and said we were hopelessly lost. I had counted on Dayal who has years of experience of walking alone in forests to say otherwise – but he broke an iceberg I was hoping to avoid.
An Acridid grasshopper was one of the curious fellow to see what we were up to so
deep in a forest.
We came back on the path, and resisting going back the way we came, we treaded along the riverbed and came to a deep gorge where a nullah (a rivulet or a large stream) met the river. The path, the footprints, disappeared here. People had come here, but they had vanished – or walked back as we did.

Our resistance to walk the same path had backfired, and we were on it again. The skinned mango halved by teeth, and its counterpart a few yards from it, were still lying there. I remember them because I did not want to see them.
Buthoscorpio sp. A black-as-night, small scorpion fond of the night. Only one species, B. politus, has been recorded
from Madhya Pradesh according to the Scorpionida checklist of India.
We finally agreed we were going in circles. The first few instances were reasoned that we went through the same paths to find another path we may have missed.
Locally known as Sarai Pihri or Bhondo Pihri (Pihri = any edible mushroom), this mushroom is common in dense Sal litter. A number of studies are looking into culturing wild mushrooms for consumption - this study undertaken by Srivastava and Soreng (2012), makes an excellent read at domesticating wild mushrooms in Jharkhand.
And we walked half-panicked yet relishing the rawness in nature. The canopy was short but dense, and no tree grew taller than the other for us to climb and get our bearing. Thick dark clouds made it worse.

The camera was set aside, finally to Dayal’s content. And with our footwear in hand, we met Jamunia once again, and argued that we had been here before – I for once believed we had come much, much further than before, but to our horror the path seemed very similar, and further ahead another set of footprints vanished before us.

Fortunately, it ran down a slope where another nullah met the river, and up on the opposite bank the path resumed. Dayal took the lead now, and we walked, and walked, as soft drizzle settled on our skin. We were out two hours after we realized we were lost before we had another village in sight.

Quite naturally, the news spread to our associates, and we have been talking about it ever since. Sukhlal says that that forest is notorious – or sinister – and he who has spent decades living adjoining it, has never come to know it so well. He said he was glad we were out, for the wild-boars are quite common in that forest (fortunately we saw none, or this account would have been different, or there wouldn’t have been one).

I was clearly made to understand that it was a Bhoolandara that haunted us. It is common in that forest, they say. They say that it must have got hold of either mine or Dayal’s feet, and made us go in circles in a wicked jest. But a Bhoolandara is not a spirit, or ghost, or a stone, or an animal.

Bhoolandara is said to be a plant that no one has ever seen.

It is indescribable.

One step upon or above it, and you’ll be lost. You will not be able to identify the direction your house is in, and the direction you think your house will be in will be a vast, dark forest.

I do not know what happened in that woodland, but something did happen. If the second set of footprints had indeed vanished, we would have spent a lot of time thinking about crossing the river, or continuing walking in any direction, and to make matters worse my phone had died before I could use the GPS. Talk about coincidence.

Barefoot Notes are short articles or short stories. I realized that footnotes are small but essential to enhance observations and share experiences, but they are often tailing general articles. To avoid footnoting them in general articles, or skipping them entirely, I welcome you to Barefoot Notes, which are generally taken a-foot. 

The Cogito: The Human Experience

It is hard for a person to put the human experience in perspective. A person will describe his experiences as a human experience, so will a community, and the experiences between two people and two communities will differ immensely. And they will differ between two cultures by leaps and bounds. To put it in a perspective, the human experience is a collective wisdom of not one but many individuals, communities, and cultures, with every bit from here-and-there. If someone asked you to put the human experience into words, your account will be different than mine, than more-or-less anyone’s – it will be heavily biased on a side you identify yourself with, whether that side is religious, spiritual, natural or philosophical. To get a fair view of the human experience, the perceiver needs to be a non-human. No intelligence has taken birth – or has been found – that can put human experience in a perspective. Yet some can, and we can more-or-less interpret it from them.

A dog itself would share different dimensions of human experience – a stray’s will differ from a pet’s by an array of its own personal experiences. So would a pangolin’s from a tiger’s; as would an aphid’s from a honeybee’s. Collectively, this is their wisdom of their experiences with humans.

Of course, the title of this article is indeed too great to even be a title for an article. One could write countless pages for countless eons, and would still fall short to complete the book on human experience by a moment in time. Here I do not even try to explain my human experience being a human myself but I hover around the periphery of the subject, pondering what a human experience is like – do I perceive it in the right way when I play fetch with my pet? What he perceives me as is the human experience? I yearn to know as much as I yearn to know what an encounter with an extraterrestrial will be like – both these instances are equally unimaginable.

The human experience however is bound by this world. It is like a forest – every tree’s trunk is the edifice which serves as questions – or visions – upon which numerous stems – or ideas – branch out, on which numerous leaves – or cultures – branch out, and the ultimate aim – rather a subconscious aim – of this forest is to spread – physically and philosophically. If we indeed view the human experience as a forest, it had to have had an ancient tree –or two – which propagated and evolved, and thrived. The two trees were seeded with a doubt – who we are and what do we do. And the trees flowered, and they did what they did for they felt the time was right for it.

Today, we are living with the same questions – who we are and what do we do, although it is reverberated through every human soul on a more personal note – who am I and what do I do. We are doing what we are doing for we feel the time is right for it. But all the things that we do today are different than yesterday, than the time before, and I’m afraid we are losing our path which should have led us elsewhere. It is time we retrospect upon our current question, and ask the next: how long can we go on like this? If not like this then how?

Daniel Quinn in Beyond Civilization asks the same question. To quote his essay The Mayan Solution (pp. 53):

[…] We are making the world inhabitable to our species and rushing headlong towards extinction, but Civilization must continue at any cost and not be abandoned under any circumstance.
This meme wasn’t lethal to pharaonic Egypt or to the Han China or to the medieval Europe, but it’s lethal to us. It’s literally us or that meme. One of us has to go – and soon.
But… But surely, Mr. Quinn, you’re not suggestion we go back to living in caves and catching dinner on the end of a spear?
I’ve never suggested such a thing or come anywhere close to suggesting such a thing. Given the realities of our situation, going back to the hunting-gathering life is as silly an idea as sprouting wings and flying off to heaven. We can walk away from the pyramid, but we can’t melt away into the jungle. The Mayan solution is utterly gone for us, for the simple reason that the jungle itself is gone and there are six billion of us. Forget about going back. There is no going back. Back is gone.
But we can still walk away from the pyramid.
[The pyramids Quinn talks about can be referenced from pp. 51 – 52 of Beyond Civilization.]

Many, many people are already challenging the pyramids, many have moved on to the next question - how long can we go on like this? If not like this then how? But it is not enough. Quinn subtly hints at another question: Do we fit into the scheme of nature anymore? We have to. Returning back to the wild, fortunately, is still a possibility, however preposterous or unlikely, for although we have walked a long way off, there is always a shortcut to the right way, or, to omit the right-and-wrong entirely, let’s call it the nature’s way. What humanity has done by walking off-course is switched off those memes that come to us naturally (say, hunting to feed than hunting as a sport, but there will always be those who choose the latter), and switched on those memes which are irrelevant but we’re still holding on to.

If it isn’t the time we asked the right questions we’re still ages away from talking of the human experience. It is a continuous process, faster than evolution, but it is recorded in history nonetheless (from where we can learn and be better humans), and it is predictable for the future if we continue on the current course. Every individual, every community is shaping its own experience – this enriches our human experience in turn – but it is not about the sum of a few communities, or countries, anymore – it is about our planet.

The secret about human experience comes to a surprisingly simple equation. It is not special as we think we are. It is ordinary – and by that I mean we are no different than the ant you squished or the snake you killed. The equation I believe in is that the human experience lies between letting a trapped mouse walk free and in killing it. What we will do is what we have been told – consciously or subconsciously – to do. It’s probably as simple as that.

For those interested in delving deeper, here are very few references I had a chance to browse through. There are many more out there, and I hope the young minds at schools are taught this:

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkin
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkin

<< Read the previous The Cogito article The Mantis in doubt.