As the incense slowly burns...

As the incense slowly burns...

It is indeed difficult to imagine its absence! The incense sticks have a demand equal to that of flowers, to say the least.  Though available easily, the making of agarbatthis involves hard effort by several.

Also, the process requires a large amount of bamboo stems and branches. With the forest cover fast receding, it is difficult to procure bamboo for making incense sticks. The thin sticks are rolled on a paste of incense and then dried.

A tribal community at Arasalu near Ripponpet in Hosanagar taluk of Shimoga is engaged in cutting bamboo and slicing thick bamboo poles into thin strips, useful for making incense sticks.

Nearly five to six tribal families venture into the forest early in the morning and cut the required quantity of bamboo spelt out by contractors. They bring the cut bamboo to their sheds provided by the contractors and spend the entire day slicing the poles into strips of requisite measurement, with a sharp knife. Those skilled actually insert the strips in between their fingers during the work! Yet, a slip spells untold disaster.

A bundle weighing one kg of these sticks fetches Rs six for the worker. The children in these families attend a nearby school during daytime and help their parents at their leisure. Says Siddappa, “ This is our vocation and we know no other work.”

“So, we shall continue with this job,” the tribal makes it clear. Several such Siddappas are working in this industry. Hailing from Karwar and Chikmagalur, they reside in the sheds provided by the contractors the entire year and visit their hometowns once or twice during festivals. Rest of the time they work under licensed contractors, cutting bamboo stem and slicing it into thin strips.

The remaining portion of the bamboo pole is sold by contractors as fuel; there is more waste than utility here! However, their hard work is bringing on a quick decline in the bamboo trees deep inside the Malnad forests. The day is not far when not a single bamboo shoot will be available. It is high time the forest department took steps to contain the wanton destruction, while also formulating a plan for bamboo cultivation at the earliest.

(Translated by B S Srivani)

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