English poet William Blake’s “tyger” might continue to burn bright if a spark lit by young poets and artists at a poetry camp in Goa – with the animal as its theme – catches on, even as the wilds are threatened by illegal mining. More than two centuries after Blake immortalised India’s alpha carnivore in his celebrated poem “The Tyger”, these young artists of the Vasudha Creative group are trying to breathe fire into a campaign for endorsing the forests of Goa as a tiger reserve. ”The poetry festival is dedicated to the tiger and the environment of Goa. There have been attempts made to wipe out the tracks of tigers from Goa’s forests,” Kishor Naik Gaonkar, one of the organisers, told IANS. With the help of poets and artists, we are trying to put the tiger on Goa’s map again,” he added.
The two-day festival that ends Sunday is being held in the precincts of the Shantadurga temple in Dhargal, 40 km from here, in one of those pastoral pockets of Goa, which go unnoticed and unreported. Pandurang Gaonkar, a young poet known in Goa for his acerbic wit and acidic poetry, said that a unique exercise conducted in tandem by poets and artists would set the poetry festival apart. ”As poets recite poem after poem on various themes related to tigers, we will have a set of artists who are going to sketch the animal on canvas on the spot,” he said. ”Whatever the forest department says under the pressure of the mining lobby, the tiger exists in Goa’s forests,” said Gaonkar, who has himself penned a satire in Marathi for the tandem. ”And that tiger will roar at the poetry festival and beyond it,” he added.
There are only 1,400 tigers left in India. Two opening lines of a poem read: “Tumhi 114 karod, aamhi 1,400. Amhi roj marto, ani tumche roj barse.” (We are a mere 1,400 and you are 114 crore. We die each day, while every day you baptise many more.) According to Gaonkar, a recent tiger poaching incident in Goa best reflected the government’s callous attitude towards environment and tiger conservation. The state forest department first outright denied tiger poaching in the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary, after noted wildlife activist Rajendra Kerkar exposed tiger killing in April.
Top forest officials, including the chief conservator of forests Shashi Kumar, then accused Kerkar of abetting the poaching, for not revealing the source of the photograph of the dead tiger which was published in a leading national daily. The case was finally registered, but according to Ramesh Gauns, a leading green activist from Goa, the role of the forest department in keeping the presence of the tiger under wraps in Goan forests was exposed. ”One of the reasons why the forest department is not interested in pursuing the tiger poaching case is because if the Sattari area is declared a tiger reserve, mining companies will have to bid goodbye to the 81 mining leases there,” Gauns said.
Kerkar, who is incidentally one of the chief guests at the poetry festival, says mining is the real reason why the tiger has never been officially allowed to surface in Goa’s forests. ”It is beyond doubt that these forests are a home for tigers. However, if the state’s handful of wildlife sanctuaries are notified as tiger reserves, mining – illegal and legal – around these, carried out with the blessings of the politicians and state administration, will have to cease,” he said. More than 40 poets, both veterans and budding youngsters, will participate at the two-day poetry festival, in which green poems in Marathi, Hindi, Konkani and English will be recited.