Finding Mowgli’s den in the dense forests of Seoni district

Finding Mowgli’s den in the dense forests of Seoni district

By SWASTI PACHAURI | | 7 May, 2016
The Mowgli Bal Mahotsav banners, en route to the Pench Tiger Reserve.
Seoni, a small district in Madhya Pradesh, is the fictional setting of Kipling’s The Jungle Book and of the recent film. It is also a tourism hub built around the Mowgli brand.
Often creating headlines for its forest riches, project clearances or delays, Seoni district that is situated along the highway, is in news for a different reason. And this time the news and sound bites don’t just resonate with environmental activists alone. For the Jon Favreau slick  Hollywood remake The Jungle Book is quick to generate a recall of Gulzar and Vishal Bhardwaj’s genius, the nostalgic jungle jungle pata chala hai verse.

So did Mowgli really take refuge in the might of central Indian forests? And how has this little brand from Indian jungles evolved over the years?

“Seeonee” is where Kipling’s jungles are based. It was his imagination back then in his tales from the forest, that lent a brand value to this little hinterland, a district with dense forests and natural resources, located in the southern belt of Madhya Pradesh. It is here where the imagination of Mowgli forayed into the unknown, traversing the ‘Wainganga’ and climbing through mighty trees of Teak and Sal. A little corridor of Rampuri that cuts across Balaghat and  districts, connects the Pench and Kanha tiger reserves, incidentally where the local tales, folklore and ethnographic narratives have originated. Locals, of course, rejoice at the mere mention of Rudyard Kipling’s characters. For the district administration over the years has undertaken sustained steps to strengthen the ‘indigenous brand’ that ‘belongs’ here. This is why as soon as one takes the NH-7 enroute to Jabalpur or Nagpur, one can spot hoardings and posters celebrating the mythical existence of Mowgli, reverberating his memoirs from the era of the 1990s.

Mowgli’s Den, the Jungle Retreat, Bagheera Resort, Kipling’s courtyard and a host of other real estate deriving traditional nomenclatures from literature and fiction, dot the jungles of Pench, where Kipling’s Mowgli gallivanted, recounting adventures shown in Favreau’s creation, which is already set to become the highest ever grosser in India in 2016.

Another local perspective emerges from within a local picnic spot of Amodagarh, 22 km from the district headquarters. This, infact, remains as one of the most celebrated hangouts of Mowgli, according to locals. A visit to the place, and the visual recollection of the 1993 Doordarshan adaptation would make anyone evocative of his stories. For the cliff, cutting across Teak, Sal, Palash, Mahua groves, standing tall in the midst of a little rivulet is reminiscent of the ‘Council Rock’ gatherings, overlooking waters of Wainganga. It is here where they would meet and decide upon their action plan, much akin to the Gram sabha concept of decentralized planning, as in known in India today. The participatory meetings, as may have been conceptualized by Kipling in his works corroborate significance to the present day model of Panchayati Raj governance, where participation of people and consent is key — to any decision making.

Mowgli Guest House next to Zila Panchayat, Mowgli Bal Mahotsav, an environment and education fair for school children, MP Tourism’s Kipling’s courtyard that houses Mowgli souvenir shop, an outlet showcasing handicraft works of poor Self Help Groups – are some examples, where characters are promoted so as to infuse the minds of locals and tourists, generating a stronger ‘recall’ value for Mowgli. For instance, the annual Mowgli Bal Mahotsav organized by the Department of Education conducts nature walks, trails and safaris, hosts essay, painting competitions in which students are divided into groups such as Baloo, Kaa or Bagheera best known as Mowgli’s pals and mentors, according to Kipling’s original works.Legends and stories remain a part of the entire Jungle Book folklore that has evolved over the years. Because of these beliefs, the district administration is replete with initiatives where brand Mowgli is endorsed time and again, so as to promote indigenous resources, its USP and subsequent contribution to literature.

Mowgli’s Den, the Jungle Retreat, Bagheera Resort, Kipling’s courtyard and a host of other real estate deriving traditional nomenclatures from literature and fiction, dot the jungles of Pench, where Kipling’s Mowgli gallivanted, recounting adventures shown in Favreau’s creation, which is already set to become the highest ever grosser in India in 2016.

In Favreau’s version, the red flower represents fire emanating from the ‘man village’, indicating an imminent danger, meaning to disrupt the harmony of Seoni’s jungle. The 1993 series too takes note of this elusive red flower, albeit here, these flowers bloom “once in ten years.” Bagheera, Mowgli’s mentor refers to these red flowers as ‘Mahua ke phool’, that change colour once in ten years (contrary to the typical Mahua florets, which are otherwise bright greenish yellow), according to the tales. These flowers signify prosperity, implying availability of more food, after a prolonged period of drought and famine, that mire the jungle in summer.

A closer analysis of local interpretations, and an even more careful inspection of the terrain’s geography, would however, reveal that this red flower signifying fire, is the famous ‘Flame of the Forest’ or Palash – a deciduous tree that beautifully dots central Indian plains. These parrot beaked florets bloom in March-April, around the festival of Holi, signifying the onset of prosperity, peace and happiness.The stories also take solace in this fact when Mowgli is seen to recount jab jungle mein laa lphool khilenge, toh humein khana milega. (when the red flower blossoms, we’d get food once again!)

According to local tourist guides in Pench and Kanha, this season of Dhak demonstrates easy viewing of animals, as owing to summer, creatures walk down the valley in search for food and water. It is for this reason that animals are seen waiting for these blooms, in the stories. Until then, they battle drought and famine, and “rationing of water”, resonating well with the present drought, villages in and around , are grappling with.

Works like the Jungle Book that has nature permeating through screens, perforce our inner beings to communicate and connect with our deeper selves, often left bereft of an inner dialogue emphasizing harmonious coexistence with other beings. While Yoga, and organics seem to dominate urban living today, histrionics on nature, and the wild such as the Jungle Book, can help us rekindle our long forgotten ties with nature. No wonder then,a phenomenon like this, that seemed to have its fictional origins in India, had to wait for a Hollywood remake to remind us of our own congenial ethic with ecosystems.

Swasti Pachauri is a social sector professional, formerly posted in Seoni district as a Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow, during 2012-2014.

 

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