While walking around in my apartment compound this morning, lost in thoughts, I was suddenly jolted out of my reverie when something small and hard fell upon and bounced off my head. I looked around only to see that it was a small dull green fig and that meant that the cluster fig tree was fruiting again. I scooped up several fallen figs in my palm, wondering if the other cluster fig tree in our compound was fruiting too – and it was. Ever since I have become involved with this project, learning more and more about the fascinating creatures that the fig trees along with the wasps are, I now see the figs in a different and much more informed light, aware that they were no ordinary fruit or flower and rather, the byproduct of a relationship millions of years old.
A couple of weeks ago, I was privy to one of the on-going rehearsals for the ‘How To Be A Fig’ performance which will be held on 23rd September. I watched with interest as the performers enacted the opening of the fig through a series of rhythmic, symmetrical, and calming movements. My mind oscillated back and forth between the cluster of figs that I had seen on trees and that of the performance unfolding in front of my eyes, as two female wasps subsequently burrowed into the inner gardens within the figs. This moment is vital, for the wasps’ action leads to the fig trees’ pollination without which neither the figs nor the wasps can survive; there are numerous species of figs each with specific species of wasp(s) which pollinate the fig trees , testifying to the major role that these trees play in the ecosystem – and what their potential destruction can mean for it. The physical manifestation of the phenomenon made it come alive, much like a film often brings that of the words of a book. I found the entire scene very tangible and visceral.
Veena then asked the performers to come up with five movements which embodied freedom; it was in reference to the female wasps who eventually emerge from the figs in search of another fig to pollinate. There is something so powerfully epic and dramatic about the situation: the ultimately imprisoned female wasp, the male wasps who literally never see the light of the day, and the subsequent generation of female wasps finding freedom although only temporarily. And yet, all these events are happening so that the wasps can reproduce, one generation after another coming out into the world and occupying their niche in the world; it is happening so that the fig trees will continue to exist, providing a home and means for the wasps to reproduce. What I felt when I witnessed these movements was that this incredible example of co-evolution which occurred on such a micro-level was now being hugely magnified through this performance; it was as if we were seeing through a bio-scope into the microcosm of the intricacy, uniqueness, and drama of fig-wasp relationship, and how fundamentally intertwined their lives are.
When the performers took a break during the rehearsal, I chatted with them about their experiences so far in the project. “It’s fascinating learning about figs and distilling it into movements,” Purva said, adding that it is easy to introduce grace into the movements but another thing to make it intellectual and thought-provoking. Sugirtha mentioned that the fig tree has intrigued her and Padmashree commented that everyone’s collective positivity is a great motivating factor in creating a moving performance. Shamala mentioned that she had done something earlier a few years ago in Goa, a performance which required her to be part acting, part doing movement: “The fact that it is also about trees and ecology really appealed to me too.” Finally, Magesh was glad that it was creating an awareness about nature and how incredibly complex yet delicate it is.“It is also our way of expressing anger towards those in power who take decisions against nature without really understanding the dynamics of it,” he said quietly but firmly.
Indeed, now whenever I encounter a fig tree, I find myself thinking more deeply than ever about its place in the system; I can now visualise the choreography of the female wasps entering the fig, initiating the journey of a new generation. And as I lose myself in watching the rehearsals, it strikes me that it is an unique way to bring to life a fig tree to the wider world, making us contemplate the multiple stories unfolding within. It is my hope that all those who watch will have a more informed sensitivity to the fig trees and indeed, all trees, realising that so many lives are interdependent on each other for survival – and that the destruction of one bodes destruction for all.
Priyanka is an independent writer and editor based in Bangalore. Having participated in environmental and conservation while living in the US & Oman, she has also explored ecology and the environment through journalism. After moving to India three years ago she has been drawn towards photographing and writing about nature, exploring the flora, their rhythms and patterns. Priyanka has volunteered to help ArtEcology with documenting the process of ‘How to be a fig?’ project.
The performance ‘How to be a fig?’ will premiere at the Students conference on Conservation Science (SCCS) on 23rd September, 2017 at the J.N Tata Auditorium, Bengaluru. The performance starts at 6pm and is open to public. All are welcome!
For more information about the project please visit ‘How to be a fig?’.