Some time ago, my attention was caught by a bizarre item buried in the back pages of the Montreal Gazette. It was about a small, remote state in the northeastern corner of India, wedged between Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Bangladesh, called Mizoram. Hundreds of thousands of acres of Mizoram are forested with a single species of bamboo, which flowers only once every 48 years or so. When this happens, the flowers produce fruits whose protein-rich, avocado-like seeds are devoured by jungle rats, and the rat population explodes. The rats go on to eat everything. They wipe out the villagers’ crops and grain bins, and Mizoram is gripped by famine. The last time this happened, in 1959, thousands of Mizos (as the region’s inhabitants are called) starved to death, and the Indian government’s failure to respond with adequate food aid sparked a guerrilla war that lasted 20 years.
Now, I read with mounting interest, the bamboo was starting to flower again, and everyone was cringing. Masses of rat traps and tons of rodenticide were being trucked in and distributed to the rural population. Mizoram’s chief minister, Zoramthanga (many Mizos go by only one name, but the names are distinctive), had been the dreaded leader of the guerrillas. A Castro figure in India, he had risen to power on the flowering of the bamboo, and now he had to deal with it.
A long read but well worth it.