Like millions of others, our family suffered the holocaust of partition, arriving from ancestral homes that became West Pakistan on the eve of 14/15 Aug 1947 with nothing other than a few rags. But the so-called refugees from West Pakistan brought tremendous prosperity to both their devastated families & country.
In the last 70 years, phenomenal developments have occurred, and life has become very comfortable even for those earning less in smaller towns, villages and marginal professions. We lived in Gurgaon in a spacious single-storey house in 765 square yards and had a Jersey cow giving enough milk and lassi to drink and curd and butter to eat with stuffed paranthas cooked by our mother many years before the LPG cooking ranges were commercialised. We roamed freely in open spaces day and night. During college days, we often drove on cycles from Gurgaon to see the Yamuna River or Qutab Minar- the tallest building of the Mughal era. Besides lights and fans, the only luxury in the house was a Philips radio and 150 litres refrigerator, and we were called affluent by whispering neighbours even though we had no conveyance other than two bicycles! The only person in the family who had been frequently abroad or travelled by air was our father, who served in the Middle East from the time I was born in gone by two decades. We seldom saw our elder brother, who, after training in the Joint Services Wing (JSW) & Military College (now named Indian Military Academy), was commissioned in the Kumaon Regiment on 4 Dec 1954.
From 1953 to 1957, I lived on my uncle’s farm on the remote fringes of the Terai region in Bilaspur, a tehsil of Nawab’s state of Rampur. We saw the moon regularly at night and the sun every day and ran through ploughing fields across our dry grass-thatched mud houses devoid of bedrooms and bathrooms. We slept in the open in summer under the stars studded nights. Encounters with tigers, leopards, hyenas, huge snakes, jackals, deer and foxes lurking in open fields were common. Many times, a calf or goat was lifted in the silence of the night and inclement weather by a tiger or leopard around places we used to be sleeping or whiling away our time lazily. We felt the bitter cold of winters, the heat of summers, the sultriness of monsoons and soothing springs and autumns.
Seeing the moon, we could tell its phase and feel the sun’s directions and angles with the changing seasons. We could predict fairly accurately the arrival of monsoon without met reports. There was neither electricity nor fans or a/cs. The domestic animals lived around, including cows, buffalos, oxen for tilling fields, odd goats, and plenty of egg-laying fowls. Our pet female canines Rosy- a very cute camel-coloured Alsatian, and Rummy-the snappy Terrier and uncle’s BSA 12 bore DB, protected us from the wild animals as the thefts and the dacoities were uncommon. We slept in the open in summers, but in winters and rainy seasons, we slept under thatched huts with no side mud walls. We could navigate through wild fields and virgin forests on the bleakest dark night with thick clouds. Often lightning killed humans and animals. I cycled through a mud road 15 km one way to school in Rudrapur, now in Uttrakhand, and no one ever taught me a word at home. I was efficient in grazing cows and milking them and was an ace tractor driver before I became a teenager. We suffered bouts of malaria and typhoid, and my grandmother’s gur (jaggery), ajwain (bishop’s weed), haldi (Turmeric), adhrak (ginger), tulsi (basil) and kalimirchi (black pepper), decoctions were a panacea for our all ailments in all the humans and animals beings around.
We had no newspapers, radio and no calendars, and it was amazing how my illiterate grandmother not only looked after the entire farm but could precisely tell us when would be the next Holi and Diwali to celebrate. We consumed organic grains, vegetables, fruits and milk grown locally with no chemical manures, had plenty of water from a hand pump, poultry from the reared fowls, and I grew up as a hardy, tough lanky lad for whom riding a bicycle from Bilaspur to Delhi was just one of those things.
We lived at the threshold of nature on one side and emerging modernity on the other with one thing certain- to go forward and further forward with both! Being with nature is an adventure that never ends. Moving away from nature, the reverse is equally true. Being with nature does not mean visiting hill stations, coastal areas, high seas or the sand dunes in the deserts. Nature abounds everywhere – the trees, bushes, flowers and crops blooming, the rivers, the canals, and lakes tracks woven like arteries. The butterflies swiftly move from flower to flower, the birds chirp, peacocks dance in gathering clouds, the rain drops falling like wet solitaires and create rhythmic music, the cats mew, the monkeys and squirrels agility and swiftness jumping over the branches of trees chased by more powerful and aggressive languors and loitering pie dogs and their beautiful litters lurking behind mothers! One does not need to go abroad to watch ants for any length of time doing their remarkable feats of strength. Tiny ants, marching in lines, hauled food, grains of sand, and even small pebbles, back to their colonies. Indeed, ants can lift objects 50 times more than their body weights. Or watch snakes crawling in their semi-cyclic motion, frogs crocking in ponds and stagnating water and the over-crowded population of mosquitoes and flies humming and buzzing around human and animal bodies while leeches sucked their blood stealthily 24×7. The eagles, during daylight, hovered high in the sky for their prey, occasionally targeting our fowls and white pigeons and domestic cats and pups while wood peckers’ strong bills drilled and drummed tree trunks and extracted food with their long sticky tongues. A flowing stream or a lake can be equally fascinating, and so are the ‘first light’ when the sun in its crimson glory is about to appear on the eastern horizon and the ‘last light’ when it goes down, resting on the western horizon with its golden light extinguishing ushering darkness around and a while later the stars start twinkling up in the heaven in the greyish dark sky reminding us to light our glass and wick lanterns.
With an increasing population and diminishing land, we live in concrete jungles of multistoried skyscrapers with no space in between. Visibility vertically and horizontally is limited, and those in inner lanes see insensitive, crude tall concrete walls interspersed with pigeon-holed windows and doors. The sky wards look like a rectangular small, suspended plot vertically like the ones prospective house buyers see on the master plan of the residential colony. In concrete-layered prison houses, there are no jungles and hills to see and no landscape view!
Other than stray dogs, crows, cats, cattle, and some trees here and there caged in steel casings and cemented roads around with no breathing spaces devouring and pronouncing them with such concrete and cemented death knells. And while summers are severely hot, winters are miserable, especially for the unfortunate poor and in between Mansoons causing monstrous traffic jams, floods, deaths and destruction along river beds and low-lying areas and high inflation that tomatoes could replace any hard and strong currency to barter or trade even Raffles, guns, ships or munitions!
On commissioning in 1963 as 2/Lieutenant, my hefty pay packet consisted of Rs 450 a month that, included Rs 50 as a high altitude allowance per month as my Battalion was located in Darbuk ( Ladakh) after the ignominious 1962 War in Chushul. My late elder brother, then a war veteran and decorated senior Major in 6 Kumaon, did my financial planning sitting in Arunachal Pradesh, then called NEFA (North East Frontier Agency) in one stroke- ‘33% each of your salary should go as savings in the defence services officers’ provident fund (DSOP Fund), your personal expenditure and the rest as help to our parents. After nearly a year’s service coming to God-forsaken peace station Gaya, I was indeed too proud an owner of the new bicycle, while 2 in 1 transistor, watch and camera was gifted to me by my father. With these earthly possessions, I was somewhat thought to be from an affluent family. Early in the morning, we all youngsters would race energetically on our cycles for the PT parade and race back after PT to have a quick bath, change and breakfast to be in the training ground in just 50 minutes. I was indeed on cloud 9, living well as a young officer. Even now, I remember my optimised happiness with my few worldly possessions. But no one in this world is rich enough to buy back one’s past!
Once as a senior Captain on staff, I had a scooter. My wife, with our two small children & I often commuted from Kanpur to Delhi and Ranikhet to Delhi and back on our Vespa scooter more as an adventure & economics, ferrying family, camera and record player but so also to have available own conveyance at home to commute during holidays and show off our worldly possession(s).
In modern-era townships, nature is sealed off from concrete skyscraping jungles, and residents in the outer perimeter look at nature through a gate. Imagine the plight of people living in the inner lanes parked with automobiles and two-wheelers of all sorts, sizes and make, interacting with nature like mice in a rat trap, and what would happen to them if nature ever got angry in the form of an earthquake, flood or fire! Sadly, we saw that in recent flash floods in the Jamuna River in the national capital region (NCR) and other places in India and the world over currently unleashed heavy Monsoon downpours. The catastrophe could be as devastating as the atomic holocaust as man has failed to interact with nature in its various manifestations in bad times and take preventive measures. We are conversant with the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, Fukushima, the greatest environmental disaster of all time and the Uttrakhand floods or Kathmandu earthquake very recently!
We must ensure nature and development co-exist. A country may have warships, planes, guns and drones or nuclear arsenals along with TVs, I-pads, Facebook, Messenger, Twitter or LinkedIn, mobiles and WhatsApp, but let us keep enjoying nature watching and learning nature’s phenomenon in seeds germinating, plants maturing to trees laden with fruits, blooming flowers and bees and butterflies humming in their fluttering wings music and sucking nectar out of them, rolling and gurgling streams like melodious percussion dholaks and tablas and rivulets with trots frisking and navigating marvellously, cuckoos singing and squirrels jumping, roaring seas and oceans, snow-capped mountains hugging the sky and clouds floating and running a race with changing forms suspended in the sky with no strings attached! Every living species, big as an elephant or small as an ant, teaches us survival and universal ecological balance. Unfortunately, modern humans running a rat race of survival and one-upmanship have forgotten to enjoy nature’s fold and are too scared to protect it and destroy and kill it at will. Humans have walled nature away due to increasing greed, needs, and insensitivity towards God’s other creations. Those living in these matchboxes and basements have no access to natural light and fresh air, wild animals, snow-capped peaks, or the calmness of seas and oceans fused by tides. They work and live in the artificialities of life far away from Mother Nature.
For them walking in a jungle trail in hills and mountains along the Himalayas or the Northeast, sand dunes, sea shores, watching the sunrise and sunset on Nandadevi and Trisul or Kanya Kumari along the confluence of the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea would remain unfulfilled dreams. They know more about costly stress creators but less about nature’s free stress busters like the beauty of the Kumaon Hills, Rann of Kutch, angling trots in the Himalayan streams, throwing snowballs in Gulmarg, Kausani or Kufri, the silence of Cloud 9 and the hearing roar of a tiger or waterfall gorging in Jim Corbett Park. We do not have to visit far-off places to be in nature’s lap. Walking along the Jamuna River or the fringes of the Aravali would teach us man’s cruelty and greed towards gagging these life-sustaining sources in the national capital region (NCR).
Let Mother Nature and Yoga be our newer destinations and newer experiences and new Nature Clinics for stress bursting. Stress leads to complex medical, psychological and psychiatric problems and imbalances in the living species are avoidable lifestyle diseases. Sadly, maximum deaths are caused by stress, cardiac arrests and lifestyle diseases in the younger generations. In fact, there is nothing in these two aspects of living. It is just enduring to get what we have lost with maddening crowds and sky-high scrapers imprisoning us from Mother Nature’s Free Clinic.