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      The Sundarbans Inheritance by Bittu Sahgal

About the essayist

Bittu Sahgal is an Indian author. He writes mainly on wildlife and biodiversity.

About the essay

  • The Sundarban is well known for their royal Bengal tiger and mangroves, but they are both in decline. The Sundarbans Inheritance by Bittu Sahgal tells us how human interference, climate change, and global warming harm tigers as well as the largest bio-diverse mangrove ecosystem in the world. This essay reveals to us why we should save the Sundarbans and how it is possible to be saved. It also portrays a lively picture of the Sundarbans along with its biodiversity and rich heritage which beautify our journey to the Sundarbans. 

  • The Sundarbans Inheritance is a non-fictional prose that is told from the first-person point of view.

  • The main theme of the essay is tigers which face dangers in the Sundarban, and mangroves which are declining day by day.

  • In this essay, he talks about Calcutta during his childhood days, and his experience with the tigers, mangroves, and the Sundarbans, and it also reminds us how we’ve been protected by the Sundarbans for years. At the end of the essay, the narrator hopes that mother nature has the power of rejuvenation and renewal, but its restoration and preservation are greatly dependent on human consciousness and efforts.


In the essay ‘The Sundarbans Inheritance’ the narrator shares all of his experience with Sundarbans and depicts the present scenario of the Sundarbans where tigers are troubled by human beings and mangroves have been destroyed. It is the age of technology and we have all information at our fingertips but there is a turning point in the Sundarbans which is damaged by human beings.

Several years ago, Sundarban was a dark, mysterious, and forbidding place where tigers used to live. The narrator grew up in Calcutta. As a child, he had seen the only tigers in the Alipore Zoo. At that time he had fear and curiosity which were mixed with pure surprise that created wild images of the Sundarbans in the narrator’s mind. Then the narrator felt his pulse race to think about visiting a forest where tigers were out of cages.

Once the narrator stood on the wooden Kakdwip jetty where snakes touched his legs lightly and he was unable to move from there in shock. He thought them to be non-poisonous snakes but probably they were wandering dog-faced snakes or common snakes. At that time, he was in a wild land in which the water of the Hooghly River fell into the Bay of Bengal. This seemed to be large for the narrator. So, he felt overwhelmed and began to have a love affair with the Sundarbans. The narrator loved the Hooghly River and recalled all of his boat trips and visits. When he became mature, he began his journey. He drove south along the 50 km road from Kolkata, past Diamond Harbour, past Kulpi, and reached Kakdwip, just short of Sagar Island in the Sundarbans.

In Kakdwip, the fishermen told him that crocodiles and sharks were very common there but he did not see them looking at the open water and mudbanks. He knew from the fishermen that the tigers used to live there a long time ago and they could be found in Bangladesh.

The attraction of the narrator to the Sundarbans becomes stronger after several trips and the passage of many

years. He realizes something awe-inspiring about the wetlands that nobody can explain as they existed before the arrival of human beings. So, he returns there like a moth to a flame. While entering the tidal world, three things influence us -blue skies, green mangroves, and brown mud. There are similarities between the mangrove-lined mudbanks and the comforting vibration of boat engines which have a calming effect on us as minutes turn to hours and then days in the water world of the Sundarbans. Many surprises go through our lives from muddy shores.

According to Bittu Sahgal, the Sundarban has stored much that cannot be understood by those who have not experienced a mangrove swamp in its proper size. It is a halfway world between land and sea where terrestrial and marine species get shelter. The terrestrial species live on land and occupy the upper canopy of shrubs and trees whereas the marine species live underneath amidst the roots and mud in the salt water. Mangroves can survive in both saltwater and freshwater, unlike most other species as they have adapted a unique filtration system to remove most of the salt from the water it takes in. They can also save water in their leaves like desert plants to use later on. Even further, some mangroves have special roots that stick up out of the water to help with gas exchange. Some species excrete salt through glands in their leaves. In addition, all mangroves disperse their offspring by water.

Sundarbans is the world’s largest contiguous mangrove forest and is a designated world heritage site. At present, the Sundarban faces several challenges as we are unaware of our responsibility to the earth. With rising sea levels, islands are disappearing and the increasing salinity in the water and soil has severely threatened the health of mangrove forests and the quality of soil and crops. If mangroves are destroyed, the fish catch will fall and a few people will be unable to sustain their livelihood. Again, human beings interfere in the lives of the tigers and their co-habitants and most of the animals lose their lives which pushes the ecosystem to be very chaotic. So, we are intensely aware of the wonderful myths and legends of the undefeatable Sundarbans.

The Sundarban has many plants, canals, and islands that have saved Kolkata and Khulna from the natural phenomenon for many years. But all people are not aware of it. Millions of people sustain their livelihood from the fish markets, melting pots of Bengali culture, and culinary pride. Yet, they are not aware that they have benefited from the Sundarbans’ inheritance.

Nature is the fount of human inspiration. Our music, art, history, cultures, religions, and philosophies sprang from wild nature and unearthly swamps where tigers, sharks, turtles, dolphins, and migrating waterfowls live. The amazing diversity of life in the Sundarbans and some upcoming discoveries by science are being troubled because of deforestation and rising seas. This is a serious threat to everyone who needs to cooperate with nature to renew all. 

Multiple Choice Questions

  1.  Checkered Keelbacks are-a)tortoise b)non-venomous snakes c)venomous snakes d)cobra

  2. Bittu Sahgal was born in-a)1945 b)1905 c)1901 d)1947

  3. Bittu Sahgal grew up-a)Paris b)Calcutta c) Britain d)Rome

  4. The river Bittu Sahgal loved was- a) the Ganga River b) the Hoogly River c) the Yamuna River d) the Rupsa River

  5. Bittu Sahgal is the founding editor of -a)the Times b)Evening Star c)The Great d)Sanctuary Asia

  6.  Bittu Sahgal could never resist asking about -a)the crocodile b)the elephant c)the bird d)the tiger

  7. According to the fishermen, the tiger lives now in -a)Bangalore b)Chennai c)Delhi d)Bangladesh

  8. Once you enter the Sundarbans, three colours dominate -a)blue skies, green mangroves, and brown mud b)green hills, orange sun, and grey sky c)brown walls, green fields, and blue ocean d)green trees, and red flowers

  9. Roughly ________ of the world’s present 15 million hectares of mangrove exist as the Sundarbans. a) 100 million hectares b) 10 million hectares c) 1000 million hectares d) one million hectares

  10. As a child, Sundarbans was a forbidding place for Bittu Sahgal because it had -a)crocodiles b)tigers c)dolphins d)monkey

  11. Bittu Sahgal recalls-a)his journey as an author b)endless boat trips and visits to the famous botanical gardens c)his school life d)his philosophy

  12. By mentioning ‘those impressionable years, the author referred to the years he spent in -a)Kolkata b)Chennai c) the United Kingdom d) the United States

  13.  Botanical gardens is located on the bank of the _________river.-a) Yamuna b) Hooghly c) Rupsha d) Ganga

  14. The word ‘ethereal’ means-a)ethical b)materialistic c)unearthly d)easy and lucid

  15. As a child Bittu Sahgal had seen tigers  as ‘sorry specimens’ in  -a) Alipur Zoo b) Sundarbans c) Uttarakhand d) Bhopal

Short Answer Type Questions

a)Which is the largest bio-diverse mangrove ecosystem in the world?

Ans: The Sundarbans is the largest bio-diverse mangrove ecosystem in the world.

b)What did Kakdwip fishermen inform the narrator?

Ans: Kakdwip fishermen informed the narrator that crocodiles and sharks were common in the Sundarbans.

c)Name the colors which dominate us while entering the tidal world.

Ans: The colors that dominate us while entering the tidal world are blue skies, green mangroves, and brown mud.

d)Who can’t comprehend what Sundarban has in store for them?

Ans: People who have experienced a mangrove in its real dimension can’t comprehend what Sundarbans has in store for them.

e)What impression of the Sundarbans did the writer have as a child?

Ans: As a child, Bittu Sahgal thought that the Sundarban was always a dark, mysterious, forbidding place ‘where tigers live’.

f)Name two notable works of Bittu Sahgal.

Ans: The Corbett Inheritance and The Periyar Inheritance are two notable works of Bittu Sahgal.

g)Name the environmental education program that was developed for school children by Bittu Sahgal.

Ans: The environmental education program which was developed for school children by Bittu Sahgal was ‘Kids for Tigers’.

h)What did the narrator feel when he was in a wild land?

Ans: When the narrator was in a wildland he, felt overwhelmed by the absolute vastness of all that lay before him.

 i)What did the narrator do when he was old enough to buy a motorcycle?

Ans: When the narrator was old enough to buy a motorcycle, he started a journey, driving south along the 50 Km road from Kolkata, past Diamond Harbour, past Kulpi, to Kakdwip, just short of Sagar Island in the Sundarbans.

 j) Where did the narrator grow up?

Ans: The narrator grew up in Calcutta.

h)Why does Sahgal use the phrase, ‘like a moth to a flame’?

Ans: According to the narrator, he is strongly attracted to the Sundarbans like a moth who is attracted to bright lights. As the moth symbolizes attraction and determination, the narrator uses the image of a moth to convey his strong desire to go to the Sundarbans.

i)What had a lulling effect on Bittu Sahgal?

Ans: The similarity between mangrove-lined mudbanks and the comforting throbs of boat engines had a lulling effect on Bittu Sahgal.

j)What would make Bittu Sahgal’s pulse race?

Ans: The thought of visiting a forest where tigers lived outside cages would make Bittu Sahgal’s pulse race.

K) How much of the world’s total mangroves do the Sundarbans comprise?

Ans: Around one million hectares of the world present 1.5 million hectares of mangroves exist as the Sundarbans spread across India and Bangladesh.

l)What dangers do the Sundarbans face from north and south respectively?

Ans: The Sundarban faces deforestation from the north and the rising seas from the south.

k)Where did the narrator see tigers as a child?

Ans: The narrator saw tigers in Alipore Zoo as a child.

m)What species of snakes did the writer guess?

Ans: The writer thought the snakes were checkered keelbacks, but more likely, they were migrating dog-faced water snakes or common smooth watersnakes.

n)Where, according to the fishermen, does the tiger live now?

Ans: According to fishermen, the tigers could be found in East Pakistan(now Bangladesh).

Long Answer Type Questions

1. How are we benefited by the Sundarbans?


Why should we conserve Sundarbans?

Ans: (i)The Sundarbans mangroves reduce the fury of cyclonic storms and prevent soil erosion due to tidal actions.

(ii)Mangrove forests reduce wind speed drastically and help to break them.

(iii) When the huge winds come from the Bay of Bengal, mangroves act as a friction barrier.

In this way, mangroves slow down the wind very strongly.

(iv)It gives shelter to the terrestrial species and marine species.

(v) It gives livelihood to millions of people as many people earn money through collecting honey and catching fish. Again, it is a tourist spot where people come for traveling which gives livelihood to many tourist guides and woodcutters.

 2. Why did the narrator think that the Sundarban is under threat?

Ans:(i)In the last three decades we have lost around 10,000 hectares of mangroves Sundarbans area which is roughly 100 square kilometers, a massive area.

(ii)Now people cut the forest and disturb the delicate balance of saline and fresh water.

(iii) Because of human activity more than 35% of the world’s mangroves are already gone.

(iv) Now people kill tigers to fulfill their needs and greed. It damages the health and diversity of an ecosystem.

3.”Nature has the power to repair and renew all …” Explain.

Ans: Nature gives us all that we need. It gives us air to breathe, water to drink, and food to eat. It is so powerful and self-sufficient, but now people fulfill their desires. In this way, there is an imbalance in nature as we lose tigers and mangroves in the Sundarbans. If we stop killing tigers and cutting trees, nature can use its power to repair those things that are damaged and destroyed by us.

4. Why is it important to protect the Sundarbans?

Ans: (i)It protects people from natural disasters, and acts as a shield from natural disasters.

(ii)Mangroves give protection to the coastline and minimize disasters due to cyclones and tsunamis.

(iii) It acts as a shock absorber. They reduce high tides and wave opportunities to coastal communities.

(iv) Sundarbans is full of natural resources. It also has economic values.

(v)It is also known for numerous Bengali folk songs and dances. It’s rituals and religious festivals play a very important role in Bengali culture.

(vi)It is well-known for the Royal Bengal Tigers which play a pivotal role in the health and diversity of an ecosystem.

5. How do mangroves adapt to the environment?

Ans: The mangrove plants have adopted themselves in many ways to cope with salinity. These plants are equipped with abilities to extract pure water from brine by exerting a higher osmotic pressure than seawater. Some species of mangroves have learned to shed their leaves which are completely loaded with salt. Some species possess salt glands and hairs that help them expel salt as waste. All the fruits and shoots float into the ocean to make seed dispersal easier.


1. Answer the following questions in a complete sentence:

a)How does Bittu Sahgal describe the Sundarbans?

b)What is the myth associated with Sundarbans?

c)What are imbued by the oral history of the Sundarbans?

d)How does the Sundarbans serve to be a boon to mankind?

e)What was Bittu Sahgal doing in November 1966?

f)What does Bittu Sahgal mean by the term “mantle of protection’?

g)What was Bittu Sahgal’s idea about the Sundarbans during his impressionable years?

h) What did the Kakdwip fisherman inform Bittu Sahgal?
2. Answer each of the following questions in about 80 words:

a)Where did the narrator stand? What difficulty did he face there? Why did he feel overwhelmed there?

b)Where did the narrator grow up? How was Sundarban during his childhood days? Where did he see

tigers at that time? How did he feel there?

c)What did Kakdwip fishermen inform the narrator? What did they say about the tiger?

d)”And I, like a moth to a flame, have constantly returned.”-Where did the narrator return and why?

e)According to the narrator, what has been stored in the Sundarbans?

f)How do the mangrove plants shelter Kolkata and Khulna?

g)”Living in an age when technology puts hard information at our fingertips with frightening cases, we are 

acutely aware …”-What are we aware of?

h)How has the Sundarban sheltered Kolkata and Khulna from the fury of cyclonic winds in the Bay of Bengal

for a long time? How are we benefited by the Sundarbans?

i)”But nature has the power to repair and renew all… if we allow it to.”-What should be repaired by nature? How do we allow nature to do so?

j)When did the narrator feel his pulse race and why?

k)When did the narrator begin to love the Sundarbans?

l)How do people sustain their livelihood in the Sundarbans?

m)How do mangroves get rid of salt?

n)Why is Sunderban known to be the largest and most bio-diverse mangrove ecosystem in the world?

o)What are referred to as the ‘melting pots of Bengali culture’? How are the mangroves of the Sundarbans related to it?

p)Why is Sundarban mentioned as a ‘halfway world’? Why does he refer to it so? Why does he say that it has almost reached the ‘tipping point’? How are mangrove plants ultra-adopted to cope with salinity?

q)Why is the trip to Sundarbans like a pilgrimage for the author?

r)”My fascination for Sundarbans has grown even stronger”.-Explain.

2. Do as directed: 

a)My love affair with Sundarbans had begun.(Replace the underlined word with group verb)

b)After several trips and the passage of many years, my fascination for Sundarbans has grown even

stronger. (Change to past simple tense)

c)Those who have not experienced a mangrove swamp in this dimension will find it difficult to

comprehend. (Replace the underlined word with a group verb)

d)Mangrove plants themselves are ultra-adapted to cope with salinity. (Rewrite the sentence using a Relative clause)

e)Whenever mangroves have been destroyed, anywhere in the world, the fish catch has fallen. (Change to

past continuous tense)

f)But nature has the power to repair and renew all. (Rewrite the sentence using a gerund)

g)This tangle of plants ,channels and islands ___________Kolkata and Khulna from the fury of cyclonic winds

in the Bay of Bengal.(Fill in the blanks with the correct form of the verb: have sheltered/were sheltered/has sheltered)

h)This veritable poetry of evolution is under serious threat. (Rewrite the sentence using a Relative clause)

i)Some species have learned to shed leaves loaded with salt. (Rewrite the sentence using participle)

j)To extract pure water from brine, their cells exert a higher osmotic pressure than seawater. (Replace the

underlined word with a group verb)

k) I stood on the wooden Kakdwip jetty in knee-deep, muddy-brown water. (Change into a compound sentence)
l) Nature has the power to repair and renew all. It should be allowed to do so. (Join with a participle)
m) Mangrove species possess salt glands. (Use the noun form of possess)
n) Further damage can be caused by humans. (
Change the voice)
o) I recall endless boat trips and visits to the famous botanical gardens. (
Replace the underlined word with a group verb)

3. Fill in the blanks with appropriate prepositions:

a)The ‘sameness’ ____ the mangrove-lined mudbanks and the comforting throb _____ boat engines have a lulling effect as minutes turn____ hours ,then days ____the water world ______the Sundarbans. Yet, surprises keep jumping out at you from the muddy shores that crawl ____life.

b)As soon as I was old enough _______buy myself a motorcycle , I found myself ________pilgrimage, driving south along the 50km road _______Kolkata , past Diamond Harbour , past Kulpi, _______ Kakdwip, just short ________Sagar Island _______the Sundarbans.


♦Kakdwip-city of South 24 Paragans, ♦jetty-a wall or platform is built into the sea where boats can be tied, ♦muddy-soft and watered soil, ♦transfixed-unable to be moved, ♦brushed-touched lightly, ♦keelbacks-non-poisonous, ♦migrating-wandering, ♦sheer-absolute,  ♦impressionable-easy to influence, ♦vastness-largeness,♦ mysterious-strange, ♦forbidding-seeming unfriendly and frightening, ♦ tinged-mixed, ♦awe-feeling of fear, ♦pulse race-make somebody excited, ♦recall-call up, ♦pilgrimage-a holy journey, ♦mudbanks-mud on a river bank, ♦resist-make somebody stop,♦ passage-process of moving from one place to another, ♦fascination-charm, ♦inexplicably-unexplained, ♦advent-arrival, ♦moth-an insect, ♦flame-blaze, ♦throb-vibration, ♦lulling-calming, ♦crawl-went through, ♦swamp-wetland, ♦dimension-size, ♦refuge-shelter, ♦terrestrial -dry land, ♦former-previous, ♦canopy-cover or spread, ♦underneath-situated directly below, ♦amidst-in the middle of, ♦ultra-adapted-greatly adapted, ♦extract-remove, ♦brine-saline water, ♦exert-apply, ♦excrete-separate and expel as waste, ♦varying -different in size or nature, ♦swamp-wetland, ♦dispersal-scatter, ♦shoots-young branches ♦magnificent-extremely beautiful, ♦fingertip-using the end of the finger, ♦acutely-intensely, ♦myth-traditional story related to the early history of the people, ♦legend-traditional story of the past which is not authenticated,♦abund-exist in large number, ♦keenly-intensely, ♦tipping point-changing point, ♦tail spin-a bad situation that is out of control, ♦tangle-knot, ♦cyclonic-resembling a cyclone, ♦minimally-to an extremely small in degree, ♦culinary-related to cooking, ♦imbued-filled with, ♦waterfowl-a bird that frequents water, ♦grip-hold, ♦veritable-respectable, ♦pincer-tool, ♦renew-to make something new, ♦evolution-gradual development of something