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The Exiled Prince

Cicada, Kabini -

History is replete with tales of legendary heroes going into exile, and returning after conquering the odds, to reclaim their rightful place. In the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, the young Prince Rama had to undergo a fourteen year exile before he was considered ready to claim his throne. While Rama spent his years in the mythical wilderness of Dandakaranya, the hero of our piece has chosen his exile in forests closer home. The Cicada of Kabini begins life as a tiny, rice shaped egg, deposited by the mother in a groove of a tree limb. Once the egg hatches, the baby Cicadas feed on the tree fluids found in the groove. Having stocked up, they then plunge onto the ground, which they proceed to burrow into till they find a tree root that will sustain them for the duration of their self-exile, which could last anywhere between two to seventeen years. Imagine the state of mind of a Cicada emerging as a Nymph after all these years, only to see a fully grown luxury resort at its doorstep. Chances are, though, that he’d feel very much at home, for the dwellings seem just an extension of the forest and feel organically wedded to the land. Having emerged, the adult then hops up the nearest tree and sheds his exoskeleton, inflates his wings with fluid, and sets off looking for a mate. And when he does spot a likely lass, he vibrates the tymbals on his abdomen to produce that amazing music that the male Cicada is so famous for. The song of the Cicada is so unexpectedly resonant and memorable that one is willing to wait ages to hear it again. Even if it takes another seventeen years for the next exile to return!

Photograph: Ganesh H. Shankar Story: Rajesh Ramaswamy

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