Is it just me?

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Is it just me who’s bothered?….. or is there nothing to be bothered about?

Yesterday’s newspaper had an obscure bit of news – forest fires in Wayanadu, where fires had been started at 15 different places simultaneously; leading to the suspicion that it was arson by “anti-social” elements. A week back, some news channels deigned to talk about the Bandipur forest fire. That time the culprits were mentioned to be “disgruntled forces. More than 800 acres of forest burnt down, thousands of animals displaced, irreplaceable environmental damage. And what is it that we are worried about?” Most TV channels and newspapers (If they did!I am not sure if some really thought it was important) talked about the impact on tourism, the money that we lost, and oh dear, how this would affect our GDP?

But seriously?

Impact on tourism? Is that all the use we have for our forests? Do we really think that our forests are just places where we take our kids for jungle safaris, or brag about to our foreigner friends?

I guess that’s it. That’s what we think. More importantly, that’s what we feel.

And that’s the strangest thing. We really feel no emotions towards our land, our trees, our jungles. No feelings towards the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil we trod on. Oh, I am no environmentalist; in fact, all those who know me well can vouch for my highly consumerist, pro-capitalistic feelings. I have always believed that luxury is a necessity, and that comfort is a highly underrated human feeling. But even for me, for someone as inherently selfish as me, it’s quite obvious that something is essentially wrong. Very wrong.

We breathe this air. In and out. In and out.  Every minute. Injest it into our being. Our lives are not dependent on this air. THIS is our life. This very basic action of taking in air, and out. And yet, we are not bothered about how good or bad this air is. We look at trees, at forests, at nature, as things which are secondary to our existence. And oh, I include myself in this “We”. We go to forests for our holidays, we plant the occasional tree, we water the pots in our balcony. We claim to love nature. I know I do. But we can easily live without it, cant we?

Over the past few years, we have seen our city lose its green cover. We have seen our country lose vast stretches of forests, all in the name of development. Some of it has been arson, a lot through mining and quarrying, some through real estate “development – mostly urban, some agricultural. Karnataka, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Kerala, Bengal, Assam, AP – states where has been rampant rape of forests. Other states too probably, but where it’s probably not as obvious. And yet, it’s not really something that affects us. It’s not really something that makes a difference to our lives. Why would it? Between getting up early in the morning, rushing to send the kids to school (in my case, rushing to..well, I dont rush in the morning), driving in horrendous traffic, slogging your butt off in air-conditioned offices, driving back, gymming, going for your hobbies (if you are lucky!) – in all the small and big indignities of life, where’s the will and effort to really feel for something like trees?

 

As a nation, we are so fucked up in our priorities. We talk about our land, our culture, our “sanskriti”. We have a kind of chest thumping patriotism when we talk about our glorious heritage, and our unique culture. Everybody from our government, to our politicians, to our gurus, to the man on the street, agree on that. That it’s a beautiful sacred land. And yet, when it’s raped repeatedly, time and again, over and again, we feel no sense of outrage. So, yes, it’s fine to get angry about disrespect to our Gods; it’s fine to police art, and literature and books, because it’s against Indian culture; it’s fine to feel strongly about religion, so much so that can you maim and kill; it’s fine to follow archaic traditions, even though they might make no sense or are derogatory to women, because that’s what Indian culture is about. All of that is fine. But, when your most precious assets, your land, your forests, your water – it’s all being taken away, all you are expected to feel is a sense of mild irritation, or even better, a sense of nostalgia for “those days.” Talk about fucked priorities!

We forget that the most real, and the most un-used meaning of the word culture is essentially – kindness. Kindess and compassion. Cultured human beings are kind and compassionate people. And yet when cultured people support mass-deforestation, we have no problem with it. We are willing to let go of culture when our tribal communities are destroyed; at that time, we want to “cure” them of their culture, and get them into a mainstream materialistic world. We don’t see any kind of vulgarity in the hunger of displaced forest communities, but we get our knickers into a twist when they show “vulgar” stuff on TV.  Totally fucked up priorities!

And yes, before anybody comments – am aware of irony of this post. Am an armchair critic as well. My only connection with the land and forests are camping trips, and the frequent drives and holidays.  Am also aware that my life is SO far away from the average Indian, for whom daily existence is a matter of survival, and where choices are not umpteen.

But again, survival is what I am talking about. I am not about to give the environmental spiel. Anybody and everybody knows about it.  But really, how is it possible to survive in bareness? How is it possible not to be awed by the earth, and everything that grows out of it?  How is it possible not to be touched by nature? Isn’t it a tragedy that we can live our entire lives, being content in a totally material world, not ever being aware of the beauty of the world we were born in, or where we will be buried? How can you believe in God, and not appreciate the most beautiful things he created?

I have spent most of my life, not caring about anything, other than myself.  I still think of myself, as someone who is essentially motivated by self-interest.  So, it’s not really altruism, or kindness, or love of the world that motivates this post.  It’s self-preservation.

I grew up thinking all this is something that activists think about. I have friends who feel strongly about nature, but I have essentially been lukewarm.  I am not even sure when that changed.

Over the past few years, I have learnt to appreciate every breath I take. And with that appreciation comes an awareness of how my being is linked to the world where I live in. How happiness and joy can be a choice, but also a state of being.  As I have walked among mountains and forests, I have come upon my deepest moments of peace.  The sound of water tricking on rocks, the sound of leaves rustling, the breeze that relieves the heat of the forest, the smell of fresh wet green grass, the squelching of soil under your feet – is all as romantic as it actually sounds.  Take the word of someone as pragmatic as I am.  The joy of walking in the mountains, the excitement of seeing wildlife, the beauty of discovering the vast and unknown – it feeds the soul. As I said, it’s really self-preservation that motivated this post.

Bandipur, Wayanadu, and Nagarhole are the green spots that have been feeding air into the parched throats of Bangloreans.  The hubby and I usually drive to these spots every other month. It’s our escape from the claustrophobia of the city, and a break from our self-imposed routines.  It’s also our opportunity to get in touch with ourselves. And it’s getting more and more difficult.

How is it possible not to get bothered?  Really, how? How?

 

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