NETWORKING WITH NATURE

Rishi Majumder ambles through the premises of BARC and comes away educated about its rare foliage (of all things!)

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

T S Verma at the nursery

Dr Bhabha directed the architects during this centre’s construction to ensure that they don’t disturb the growth of a single plant,” T S Verma, head of the Landscape And Cosmetic Maintenance Section at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), tells us. The BARC, India’s premier nuclear research centre, is surrounded by the Trombay hills on three sides with the fourth side facing the Arabian Sea. This environment has, along with strategic security, also provided the centre with opportunity to develop 850 hectares of rare and diverse flora and 40 hectares of “landscape gardens”.
So in this centre, as in the world, nature and atomic energy have signed a ceasefire for over half a century now. While BARC was inaugurated as the Atomic Energy Establishment, in 1957, its Landscape and Cosmetic Maintenance Section, initiated in 1958, was once known as the National Botanical Garden. “The name was changed because the gardens aren’t open to public,” says Verma. Here then is a peek into a tour we were fortunate in securing.

BARC rarety
The nursery grows everything from ger
bera, daisy, tibrose and chrysanthemum to bonsai. Verma’s assistants, who have mastered the art of dwarfing even baobab and banyan trees, call themselves “junior scientists” for good reason. Particularly rare plant varieties include the star shaped cryptanthus bivittatus and the Mexican Beaucarnea recurvata. But the centre’s visual coup de grace is its bougainvillea garden “held to be the best collection in the country.” Spread over a large area, the tracts (which house the main flower and give the plant it’s colour splash) of over 130 bougainvillea varieties shift shape in shades of yellow, pink, magenta, red and white. Sparkling brilliantly in a clearing is the centre’s own invention: a bougainvillea named ‘Suvarna’ because of its golden colour.

BARC rarety 2
Close to the bougainvillea is a canna garden, with 55 named canna varieties set in geometric symmetry. In another area stands the Saraca indicas (known as the Sita Ashoka) which with their yellow and orange-scarlet flowers have stood the test of Buddhist and Hindu faith since time immemorial. Adjacent to which are the Maharasthra Trees which echo the state’s pride by lining the buildings holding its best scientists. The rare Australian Cajeput melaleuca, which has it’s flaky bark peeling off to show a white trunk likened to a cabaret dancer’s striptease leads the way to the APSARA reactor (Asia’s first research reactor) and the South African
Baobab, transplanted as per Verma, during Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha’s time. As was the tall Talipot Palm, one of the “wonders of the palm family” which accompanies Bottle Palms along the ‘palm avenue’. “Also there is a ‘branching’ palm tree,” continues Verma untiring in his listing of rareties, another of which is the Pagal Patta, colloquially so dubbed because every leaf is sized differently.
But what of the ‘cosmetic maintenance’ this department promises in its name? Manicured lawns and terrace gardens aside, two features are especially noteworthy: casuarina trees (grown mostly along sea shores) are grown and shaped via topiary (the art of giving ornamental shape to plants) to look like a dome housing a reactor; and elsewhere,

close to the centre for design and manufacturing—which creates satellite equipment used by the ISRO even —lies a traffic island with Korean grass and a bed of multi-coloured leaves surrounding a sculpture paying a tribute to this centre. Verma sums up his section’s task simply: “to create aesthetic surroundings, minimise dustload, and regulate micro climate, i.e. temperature, sunlight, rainfall, wind and humidity.” Which leaves us with the macro climate to ponder about. One did hear of an announcement by scientists 10 days ago, of India doubling its uranium production in 2007.

This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/m3jk

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