Around a Medicinal Creeper by Poornachandra Tejaswi
There was a medicinal plant around which many myths, facts and stories prevailed. The author spent twenty years to unravel the facts.
The author was erecting a makeshift shade on a bed in which coffee seeds were sown. He and his assistant put some bamboo poles on the ground to make a frame, and needed to fix some canes across on the top. They needed twines. They sent Sanna to the adjoining forest to get some creepers that could be used to tie the canes. Sanna rushed to the forest and returned with a big load of the creepers. When the bundle was opened, there was one creeper that was special. It was not to be uprooted. Sanna was sternly pulled up for her indiscretion.
The author didn’t know what the fuss was about. His assistant, Mara, told him that it was a medicinal creeper. Sanna instantly said that there were so many of them in the forest. Mara was excited, and got up to go see the spot. The author accompanied the duo.
Sannappa showed Mara where the plant was. Mara tore a tender part of the creeper off the main plant and tied it around a tree. The author was curious to know why the creeper had to be tied like that. Mara narrated an anecdote to explain this.
It seems the medicinal plant was much sought after for its curative properties. said the thief would soon appear there. The author felt more incredulous. But, a sage had cursed it due to some reason. The curse ensured that the medicinal plant would elude the people who came looking for it. So, the plant remained untraceable for those who needed it most. Now that Mara had found it, he tied it around the tree so that the plant couldn’t evade his sight further.
The creeper springs to life soon after the rains. It has beetle type leaves and its fruits hang in bunches like grapes. Sadly, the plant survives for one season only. It dies naturally, till the next onset of rains. This seasonal nature of the plant was most likely behind its vanishing from human sight. This is the reason why people tie it up around trees, using it as a marker for people on later occasions.
Mara’s account was hard to believe. Curiously, medicinal plants in India have stories associated with them that are more imaginary than real. The author wandered around the forests with assistants like Mara, Byra, Masti, Apanna etc. He carefully observed the myriad plants and shrubs along the way.
Unfortunately, with the passage of time, the forests are declining, and the people who remembered the stories behind each species are dying one by one. The author is keen to ensure that the medicinal properties of the plants do not die off with time. He wants to retain the wealth of knowledge through memory — by narrating it to listeners. However, his doctor friends dismiss these accounts with contempt.
Mara effusively praised the plant he had located, but didn’t describe its exact efficacy in curing ailments. Either he held back this information knowingly or he was just ignorant about it was not clear. Mara had a big collection of anecdotes and tales around the many medicinal plants around him.
One such story ran like this. On one occasion, while foraging for bamboo shoots, he cut his hand so deep that the blood began to flow uncontrollably. A co-worker quickly went and brought the same plant from nearby, and squeezed its leaves to make a paste. The paste was smeared over the wound, and a piece of cloth shredded from his lungi was used to wrap around the cut. Mara rushed to a doctor in Hulihindalu, who, in the true medical procedure, proceeded to treat the wound. However, on removing the cloth from the wound, he found no trace of the cut. He assumed Mara was playing a prank on him. When Mara narrated how the jungle herb has healed the cut, the doctor was highly excited. He wanted Mara to show him the plant. But, even after a day-long search, the duo failed to spot the elusive creeper. The doctor was greatly enraged. He assumed that Mara was deliberately withholding the creeper from him. Flaunting his revolver at Mara, he demanded to see the creeper. Mara shook with fear. It took him long to convince the doctor that the creeper indeed had vanished from sight.
Hearing this bizarre anecdote, the author was annoyed too. He dismissed the story as non-sense. Mara began to assert his position with more force. He said how the mongoose and the cowcal — the known predators of snakes — chew these creepers to neutralize the venom after snake bites.
Mara had another story about the strange properties of the jungle creepers. He had lost all the teeth from one side of the jaw. It seems, the teeth just dropped off miraculously after he used the twig of a certain plant to brush his teeth. When he washed his mouth with the water of the stream the teeth dislodged themselves and came out. The author was plainly annoyed t hear such unbelievable stories.
With each passing moment, the author became more restless and jittery. He demanded that Mara show him the plant at any cost. As usual, Mara was evasive. To deflect the author’s persistent requests to spot the creeper, he went on narrating more stories.
He described how he, along with one of his friends, had caught a barking deer by laying a trap inside the jungle. They had slaughtered it, and brought the meat home packed in leaves. When the meat was unpacked for cooking, a live duck flew off leaving everyone dumbfounded.
The stories didn’t stop unraveling. Appanna narrated how the juice of another such kreeper, when added to milk, hardens it. So vehement was Appanna’s assertion that the author wanted it experiment it himself. He went to a friend of his who was a plant pathologist. They tried the experiment on a liter of milk. The adding of the specific creeper’s juice did harden the milk in a short time right before their eyes.
There were more surprises for the author. Krishna, a middle-aged man had been afflicted by a debilitating piles problem. The ailment had robbed him of all his vitality. From working as a farm hand, he had become a rikshaw puller. He somehow came in touch with a healer from Kerala, whose medicine brought visible relief for Krishna in just a day’s time. In due course, he regained his strength and returned to the farm.
There was a sad part to the story of the spectacular healing power of the plants around us. The knowledge of such efficacy of herbal cure is jealously held by the practitioners who don’t pass it on to others thinking such proliferation of knowledge would impair the power of the plants. When these rare healers die, the knowledge also dies with them. We lose our access to the cheep Nature-given cure for our drugs. The mankind loses the invaluable gift of Nature. It is tragedy that made the author really very sad.
Comprehension questions …
- What did Mara do when they found the creeper? ….. Answer .. Mara pulled a long piece of it from the plant, and wound it around the trunk of a nearby tree.
- Mention the curse … Answer .. A sage had angrily told that the creeper would elude anyone who seeks to use it for its curative properties.
- What surprised …. Answer .. The wound for which Mara had rushed to him was found to have nearly healed when the cloth around it was removed.
- How did the mongoose and the …….. Answer .. After a snakebite, the mongoose and the cowcal would chew the leaf and twig of the creeper to nullify the effect of the poison, and thus save themselves.
- Why had Mara lost … Answer .. Mara had chewed a part of an unknown creeper to brush his teeth. When he spewed out the water, the teeth fell off on their own.
- What did Mara’s wife … On opening the leaf covering of the meat lump, a live duck flew off the pack to the utter surprise of all.
- What happened when the milk ….. Answer .. The milk hardened in a matter of minutes.
- When would the medicines ….. Answer .. When the efficacy of the creeper became known to a large mass of people, the plants would lose their power, the local healers said.
- How long did it take the narrator .. Answer .. Initially, the author was completely incredulous about the claims of Mara about the medicinal value of the plants. Only after, he conducted the milk cuddling experiment with his plant pathologist friend, and got convincing results, did he begin to believe that the creepers indeed had medicinal properties. His findings showed how the benign Nature offers us simple solutions to our life’s many problems.
- What does the incident … Indians are generally superstitious, and are very scared of confronting unusual incidents with a scientific temper.
- How was Krishna ….. Answer .. Krishna was afflicted by piles. It had made him very weak. A healer of Kerala gave him a herbal prescription that reduced the intensity of his piles after just a day of use. He got back to his feet in days and returned to his profession.
- Do you think the author is suggesting …………………… Answer .. From his own experiment and going by the account of Mara, Krishna, and Appanna, the author was convinced that the world of plants do have simple solutions to most of our ailments, besides having other amazing properties. Allopathic medicines are no doubt good, but in terms of affordability and efficacy, they are better and more suited to our body.
- What has made the modern man …………… Answer .. The practitioners of the herbal cures do not part with their knowledge with others. So, when the healers die, the knowledge also vanishes from human domain. Ayurveda is already making a comeback as people realize the long term hazards of modern medicines. However, it will take a long time for it to be the preferred mode of treatment of diseases.
- Our natural resources are …… Answer .. The human race has woken up to the value of Nature’s bounties. So, efforts are proceeding apace to preserve forests, rivers, oceans, air etc. in their purest form. A lot of research is going on to discover alternative systems of medicine, Nature cure, and herbal medicines, so that we get to live in harmony with Nature.