The sound of silence

A foot soldier N.P. Jayan in New Delhi.

A foot soldier N.P. Jayan in New Delhi.   | Photo Credit: Photo: V.Sudershan


N.P. Jayan’s stills of Kerala’s Silent Valley speak volumes of nature’s virgin splendour.

I wanted to make use of my profession for the valley’s conservation.

The difference was so apparent. Braving the 42 degree Delhi heat, as soon as one entered the Travancore Art Gallery on New Delhi’s Kasturba Gandhi Marg the other day, the eyes suddenly rested on a framed photograph, of a man caught in the haze of a heavy shower in a thick forest. The caption read: “Silent Valley receives 42 cm of rain.”

If that could make anyone suffering the sweltering heat feel like entering the frame, the next still seemed even better. A vista of a moonlight night, with silhouettes of trees giving company to a still, grey sky. The caption said: “This is the valley of silence; here day breaks with hustling foliages; caressing winds, chirping birds; night is even better; like this one…”

Far away from Delhi, this “valley of silence” is cuddled up in Kerala’s Palakkad district. A slice of nature’s virgin beauty, it is popularly called the Silent Valley, the last undisturbed tracts of rainforest in the South Western Ghats. And the pictures are from the camera of N.P. Jayan, whose year-long stay in the deep of the Valley has made possible this refreshing photo exhibition.

Named “Vanvaas – A Year in Silent Valley”, the five-day exhibition that ended here last Friday comprised just a hundred of Jayan’s 6000 images. The photographer aimed to “make a photo documentary of the Valley.” A father of two small children, this Wayanad native “wanted to show the importance of nature through the photographs, particularly to children.”

Year-long stay

A visit five years ago to the Valley, to chase the tough resistance movement against the construction of a hydro-electric dam on River Kunthi, exposed Jayan to the area. “I felt something was drawing me into it. I felt I had to return there,” he said. Wanting to make use of his profession for the conservation of the area, Jayan, then posted in Kozhikode as a photo-journalist with a national daily, returned to the Valley on December 6, 2006. To live there for 365 days, to click stills of its exciting life. “I stayed there till December 6, 2007.”

Jayan stayed with Mari, a senior forest watcher there, in a hut “which looked like a military barracks.” With no road inside the forest, he had to trek the distances. In the summer nights, he “used to stay by the river by striking up a small fire by the side. In the winter, it was mostly on treetops.” Wireless was the only means of communication for him with the rest of the world.

Jayan made use of his time by clicking away its animals, trees, birds, flowers, orchids, insects, even cobwebs. On display were superb shots of a wild elephant’s dust bath, colourful butterflies fluttering away, treetops with patches of red, yellow, orange and brown leaves and the Valley’s prized possession — the endangered lion tailed macaque. Then there are the fruits of cullina exarillata, the macaque’s staple food, besides an ant sun-bathing atop a green snake, Malabar squirrels, Nilgiri langurs and tahrs. He has caught the rock system, tree roots and ripples of water forming zigzags.

“It is said that rainforests have three layers of life. I have clicked only the lower strata,” he said.

Having seen the “dedication of the forest watchers towards the Valley,” Jayan, whose picture of forest watchers negotiating a powerful waterfall is striking, has pledged to give a part of the price of his photographs for their wellbeing.

With no help from anyone in his venture, Jayan said, “Even putting up an exhibition like this is hard for someone who lives on a salary.” The Wildlife Trust of India has bought four of his stills though.

After Delhi, the exhibition would travel to Palakkad, and then to Bangalore, Jayan’s city of work now.

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