Of Nature, By Nature and For Nature - Chandini Varma
It was just another day, just another drowsy Physics class that came to an end. The class was left alone for a brief period. The cacophony of the students subsided as Miss Lekha entered the classroom.
I am not a great fan of English Literature classes but, I liked Miss. Lekha. Everything about her was so earthy, maybe that’s what made me connect with her and her lectures more.
She opened the literature textbook and started off a new chapter – The Man Eater Of Jowlagiri. As she read through the chapter I felt as if I am in the middle of the jungle with a man eater lurking around. I imagined the remains of the priest killed by the tigress, lying among the gnarled roots of the Banyan tree. A strange excitement filled me. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this chapter.
Afterwards I eagerly checked out other works from the same author – Kenneth Anderson. I bought book after book of his and read them again and again. The thrill and excitement that I experienced reading them was beyond words. They transported me into a whole new world. But little did I know then that it had ignited a spark in me that was going to define my destiny!
Purnima knocked at my door. I was glad beyond words to see her. She is my childhood friend and neighbor. She is so busy nowadays attending coaching classes for the Engineering and Medicine entrance examinations on top of the regular classes and tuitions. She seldom talks to me even though we travel to college together.
I had been lucky enough to escape the burden of over-expectations right from my childhood, Thanks to my lazy disposition, just average marks and a don’t care attitude.
Purni had grown pale from all this hectic schedule and she was on the verge of a breakdown. “I cannot handle this anymore. Can you somehow get me out of this?”
“But Purni, you had been working hard all these days for this. Why do you want to give up at the last moment?”
I couldn’t but ignore the blank and lifeless look in her eyes and I knew that I should help her.
Grandma was surprised to see both of us at her doorstep early in the morning. She stays in a serene little village named Kanthalloor, fringed by forests in the Western Ghats. I introduced Purni to Grandma and she was glad to know that we would be around for sometime.
While we got pampered by Grandma with her home made delicacies and lores, we felt as if time stood still. The breath taking view of the hills around, the orchards filled with the cries of myriads of birds, the squirrels and monkeys jumping from tree to tree, the rocky stream that flowed through the orchards – we savored all the wonderful sights and sounds around.
Today Chinnan has also accompanied his father Velu to our farm. The lanky lad always had a wide smile which lit up his face and was very friendly. He used to talk a lot about his hut in the Mamalakkandam forest, how they light up firewood around in the night to keep wild animals away and had promised to take me there one day. I reminded him about the promise and he readily agreed to take us around.
Purni was back to her cheerful self by now and we set out early next morning with Chinnan. The forest path wound uphill for miles and we finally reached a series of mud huts. We were moved by the simplicity of the life that these people led. They loved, feared and worshipped nature. Life was not at all easy for them, but they found solace there and lived in peace and harmony with nature.
After sipping some hot tea that Chinnan’s mother prepared for us, we walked further into the forest. Our destination was an ancient and abandoned cave temple which was believed to be centuries old.
We spotted a few small tracks which Chinnan identified to be of chitals’. Cicadas and crickets chirped throughout everywhere around. Soon we spotted the silhouette of what looked like the cave temple, but it was entangled in roots and jungle vines. As we advanced, Chinnan started sniffing around. He warned us to stay where we are and stealthily approached the cave mouth. Then he slowly retreated without making any sound and signalled us to move away.
We retreated from there and walked as fast as we could till we reached a stream and eagerly waited for Chinnan to narrate what he saw. It seems the cave was inhabited by some animal, maybe a bear. He could smell the animal and had spotted some tracks around the cave mouth that resembles a bear’s.
We got very excited and wanted to go back and explore, but Chinnan didn’t let us go back. He narrated an incident where his uncle who was once collecting firewood accidentally came across a huge bear which mauled him to death. That put an end to our enthusiasm and we started back for home.
Sighting elephant spoors and some fresh dung on the way back made our hearts skip a beat and we closely followed Chinnan who carefully moved forward looking out for any slight movement or sound.
A herd of elephants had been seen around the border of the village few days ago. They roam around in search of water and delicacies like jackfruit which are in season now. I wondered how I and my cousins used to play in our grandparents’ farm in our childhood days , so carefree and without any botheration of wild animals visiting the farms in those days. An occasional snake can be sighted here and there and sluffs were around in plenty. But nobody was harmed, it was a safe haven.
But off late elephants, wild boars and at times leopards too make occasional visits to the farms and pens in search of an easy meal.
I couldn’t sleep that night thinking of the mini adventure we had that day. The K.A stories that I read flashed through my mind one by one. I felt like I was living in one of his stories now, they were moments of bliss.
I was not expecting to get caught so fast, but that’s what it seems to be. My parents along with Purni’s dad are here ! We expected a great storm but Granny had figured out the situation and had done a commendable job of pacifying the worried and angry parents. We left for our home in the city.
It has been a week since my parents spoke to me. I felt strange and sorry for what they must have gone through once they realized that we are missing. Apologies didn’t work well, so I just waited for time to heal the wounds.
To overcome my loneliness, I started reading more and more books and articles on birds, wildlife and forests – Kenneth Anderson, Jim Corbett, Dr. Salim Ali.. the list grew as days passed by.
I was particularly interested in news on man-animal conflicts on the fringes of forests, rehabilitation of injured wild animals, conservation programs, support extended by the government and NGO’s for farmers who lose livestock to wild animal. I started collecting and organizing these articles into files as if I am a research student.
I also grabbed a few opportunities to volunteer for some NGO’s for cleaning up dump yards in our neighborhoods, planting trees, conducting surveys in areas affected by natural calamities or farmers who were losing crops and cattle to wild animals. The experiences were diverse and in some cases a bit hostile too, but I enjoyed them and learnt from them.
Today’s newspaper bore one news that shook me badly. There was a report of a man being shot to death by a group of poachers near my granny’s village. As I read through, I was shocked to realize that it was Chinnan’s father. He and some of his neighbors had resisted illegal lopping of trees and hunting by this group in the surrounding jungle and had reported them to the forest officials. They had taken revenge on him.
A few weeks later I went to meet Chinnan and his bereaved mother. He was no longer the cheerful, innocent boy who used to chat incessantly and roam around freely. He had transformed into the responsible man of the family at this very young age to help his mother run the show. They are poor and don’t have the money or power to run a case against his father’s murderers. They have to accept the fate and move forward.
I was witnessing another face of jungle life, the unpredictability, helplessness, grudge, submission that these folks go through. The intricacies and injustice haunted me incessantly. I tried to get some help from some of my acquaintances from the volunteering groups, but there wasn’t much that could be done, other than raising some meagre funds for the family to pick up. Power and influence – for once I realized the importance of these 2 factors. Without them it’s not easy to bring about change in the society.
I now had a Master’s degree in Zoology and a clear path forward in my mind. But I was sure it’s not going to be easy to convince my parents. Anyhow I decided to drop the bomb today at the breakfast table.
As soon as I spoke about it, my father walked away skipping his breakfast, my mother lamented over how ignorant her child is even at this age. Purni lost an year (because of “me”) but she cracked the medical entrance next year, successfully completed MBBS and is engaged to a handsome young doctor now.
And here I am, aspiring to enter the Indian Forest Service. Days of persuasion followed, reasons were listed as to why this is going to be the most stupid decision of my life and that I would regret it later.
But I stuck to my choice hard as a rock and they had to budge in.
I flunked in my first attempt of the Civil Services Prelims. I was surprised when I didn’t notice the usual smirk on my father’s face. Mother too didn’t have any words of wisdom to share this time. On the contrary, they both encouraged me to go for another attempt. With renewed energy and will, I attempted a second time and I cleared it and cracked the IFS final exams and the interview.
For the first time in my life, I saw pride in the eyes of my parents for me. The reinforcement that their support and happiness gave me was beyond words.
I have already started missing my parents and home, but at the same time I am thrilled to take the first stride towards my dream. I am on the way to Dehradun for my training at the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy.
And guess what, I am carrying with me my prized possession of Kenneth Anderson books; the spark that ignited my thoughts and gave me the unending desire to live with nature, work for nature and do whatever is in my power to conserve nature.