When you say ‘Nature’ to me, no poetry born under a cherry tree comes to mind. No tune composed by the river or lyrics of a song the winds on the dunes sang. No quotable quotes either. When I hear ‘Nature’, all connections in my neurons go blank, except one. The one which zips me back to where I belong, and how. In the Doon valley, you grow up making tree houses and befriending squirrels-next-door. You play fetch with your dog in a kitchen garden which grows the family’s vegetables and you ride a scooter on roads so thickly lined with old Fir trees, the mountains on all 4 sides have to vie for a little attention. My home town where my memories with Nature converge is a picture every 5-year-old draws in the name of ‘Scenery’.
Mountains big and small standing arm in arm, drawn in crayons. A sun with glorious rays peeping from between the two in the middle. Smiling. Two birds like the letter V flying randomly and a river flowing down the tallest peak. A small hut, driveway, tree to one side and bush to the other. Maybe a pond with a few ducks. And three stick figures – father, mother and child – with arms upraised, as if saying Hurrah to the delightful surroundings. When you say ‘Nature’ to me, this comes to mind.
A picture of Friendship with Nature. A bond that develops over time and is unlike any other. No strings attached here, no self-interest. No obligation or customary to-dos. None. A symbiotic coexistence in its purest form. In its most real form. One hundred percent.
I was inspired to befriend Nature as a girl, then introduced to the marvels of the wild as a married woman and today, encouraged as a mother to egg my own child into this friendship. Three phases, and I let my picture collection tell you about them.
Friends of the Doon Society, and me
I had barely learnt to differentiate between a moth and a butterfly in school when I was asked by my parents to ‘start contributing’ to an NGO they had been a part of. FODS was founded nearly three decades ago by 5 concerned citizens of the Doon valley towards the protection of this ecologically fragile belt. It was this NGO which played a pivotal role in shutting down the lime quarries in the Uttarakhand hills. I was initially enrolled in ‘NEAP’ – Nature and Environment Awareness Programme, which meant I was to visit schools and conduct informal sessions on environmental topics I myself knew enough about. And that was just the beginning, with no looking back to doing my tiny bit. While work made me relocate out of the city, FODS, with my parents as its core members, continues strong and committed. Nature trails and quizzes are organized in schools across the valley, as are bird-watching and nature camps. Under ‘Trees for Doon’, FODS asks citizens for land to plant trees on, providing free saplings and seeds for whoever volunteers a patch to be greened. A Citizen Action Group has been formed in collusion with other NGOs in order to deal with the civic problems of the city, in coordination with the government machinery.
|FODS in the city|
But the largest project running successfully remains ‘The Elephant Family’, with its primary aim of protecting the Asiatic Elephant. In order to reduce the dependence of humans on Rajaji National park, its natural habitat, FODS adopted a village, Rasulpur, to keep the locals self-sufficient and aware through alternative livelihood options and workshops, respectively.
Needless to say, this is how I was inspired to become Nature's friend, as a "friend-in-need". When I was shown not just how beautiful and fascinating it was, but also how vulnerable and how fragile. And how it needed us humans to intervene for its well-being and ours. Yes, even a youngling like me!
Into the Wild - Me and my husband
I did not marry a cave man, but I did find one who believed in wild honeymoons. Before your mind races like a cheetah, look at the picture. In the first year of our marriage, we left no stone unturned to traverse National Parks and safari across Wildlife Sanctuaries. Enjoy Forest Reserves and live on a boat to visit mangrove forests. From tuned-n-tamed nature before marriage, I was swept into nature growing wild, and in the wild. These were no resorts with manicured lawns and imported palm trees. Here, nothing stood between you and an angry animal except a man-in-khaki. Where wild boars were wild, not animated creatures out of ‘Madagascar’. Where mosquitoes bit like bees, and bees if upset could kill. Wild tuskers could chase you like toys and crocodiles snap your anchor into half. And where a beautiful bird song could be one asking you to step out of the way, for the tiger-in-stripes was walking that way.
|Some of the sanctuaries and reserves we visited - Buxa Tiger Reserve, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, Gorumara National Park, Chilla Forest Reserve, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary|
It was through many such honeymoons scattered over a year that I discovered the ‘wild’ side of the lover in me. The lover to Nature, of course, growing free far away from what I had come to call 'home' but as marvellous as creation can be!
Paying it Forward - Us and our child
Paying it Forward - Us and our child
Life happened. Out went the wild and in walked the domestic every day. The green side of our hearts had to make do with a few pots of plants and a handful of sunshine, as we earned the other kind of green to survive. It is now that I became an addict, of Facebook’s Farmville. Sowed and reaped pumpkins. Put an alarm to wake-up at odd hours to collect the harvest. The phone bill came, we were left bankrupt and I was detoxified. I bought myself an extra pot for a bitter gourd vine and forgot all about reliving and recreating an expanse of green in my apartment-life, like the green times I had left behind. Little did I know then that all I needed was a child to take me back to being my Nature’s friend again.
And my son arrived.
He's a 3-year-old boy now. I always tell him – when life gives you lemons, go look for the lemon tree. There may be pretty white flowers you may get to see. Something new, entirely! Or something wondrous and miraculous, waiting to make you gasp. And he understands, already. Feeling one with nature takes nothing and gives so much in return. Calm on a stressful day or something new to discover in the mundane. Sowing a seed in a pot and enjoying the sapling grow as if a fairy waved a wand or soaking in the sun and making mansions out of imagination. Admiring the tree and understanding growth, or the waves and thinking of change and flux. And what better way to teach my child the important idea of Respect – not just about touching elders’ feet but also letting the tiny ant crossing his path be. Safe and free, just like he likes to be.
|And gradually, through nurture and nature, our Friendship with Nature evolves, grows and gets sealed. For a lifetime, at least! Just like ours, as a family!|