Monday, 24 November 2008

Silent? Valley….

It’s one of those days when if you’d say Good Morning, you would really mean it. I mean not just the usual sun-was-shining-birds-were-chirping routine, but a really nice quiet walk in the forest. And what better name would they have found for this place other than Silent Valley.
After a long jeep ride through the forest and short meal of curd rice, I was all set for a good walk. We walked for a short while and reached the river Kunthi. Several members of the group even had a great time shaking the uncertain wooden-iron-rope bridge across the river and testing its strength, and theirs. Fun.
We sat there for a while looking over the river which we were forbidden to jump into. We were about 3 days into the camp (inclusive of train journey) and this was the first real water body in proximity. I am sure more than one of us had resisted the urge the jump out of clothing and plunge in to the water! So as this joy was sacrificed, the youngest of the troop plunged headlong into a photography session by the bridge, soon to be joined by the rest. It is believed that Silent Valley has ever since been echoing of clicks and flashes.
On the way back however, I began to wonder how much longer the name of this place would stay. We were told that one of the reasons for Silent valley being so silent was the absence of a certain insect called Cicada which happens to be very noisy and compensates for the rest of the insect world being largely mute.
We came to a point in the forest on the way back where it was resounding of Cicada. Not one or too but several of them. The sheer vibration the noise was creating in the air would put a Nokia 1100 to shame! Had Shakespeare been alive, he probably would have used this case instead of the rose to prove his what’s-in-a-name jig. But then again, the forest was good, so you don’t really care about the cicada.
We even sat down at a nice little leech-free zone to pen things down before continuing the walk. Not so bad for a good morning in a not-so-Silent Valley.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Tyger Tyger, Burnt away!

It’s almost been a very long time now since the last tiger roamed in the wild. The jungles don’t exist anymore. The balance was upset. The apex predator, a natural indicator gone, herbivore population explosion, deforestation, climate change, global warming,….., the list goes on. There are very few of us left today. We thought we’d make it, but the technology we created wasn’t enough to insulate us. In fact, that is exactly what did us in. While sustainable development is still just a bookish idea, we’re endangered, and edging dangerously close to extinction. Yes, we the humans. The web is upset, and nature is getting back at us. Natural disasters, epidemics and an environment on earth that is hostile to life forms. There are fewer of us than was ever imagined before, and we too are dying out. This is it. They say your entire life flashes before your eyes just before you die…

2008: A few weeks ago, it was discovered that the tiger population was just over a thousand individuals. And that too, is an official estimate. Don’t we all know what a notorious reputation “official estimates” have! So while state governments are in denial mode and most of us anyway don’t care, the stripes are gone for good. Even if they do accept the figures and make genuine attempts to “Save the tiger”, how possible is it? The gene pool has already been reduced. Even if we can make the species go on for a few more decades, it won’t be long before genetic mutation gets the better of the tiger. In breeding will lead to cubs being born with defects that will make survival in the wild even more difficult. They too will be gone some day. All the tigers. Just pictures left behind, to teach the kids. In those pictures, somewhere among the stripes, she’ll look at us again. A blank stare.

The 21st century: I remember standing in the Shahu Palace of Kolhapur. It’s a museum today. There were glass cases full of stuffed animals. One particular case had several tigers. There were cubs, males, females, almost every size. I remember being told that killing a tiger was considered a sign of valour for the royalty.
Picture this:
A hunting party vs. a solitary animal
Men armed with guns vs. a tiger armed with nothing but its own ill-adapted body
Men on elephants vs. a tiger on foot, soft velvet paws
A planned murder vs. a struggle for survival
… and valour they called it. I remember those eyes looking through the glass. Those dead eyes. A blank stare.

The 20th Century: independence, many were to discover, didn’t come cheap. I live in a village in India. I don’t know what freedom means to me. It hasn’t brought me anything. The forests were my land. It was taken away from me. I know I need to feed myself, my family. When people are willing to pay money for poaching, for buying fur, bones and almost every part of the tiger’s body, I don’t hesitate before I shoot that animal stuck in my snare trap. But I remember that face, which haunts me sometimes. As if it were saying something to me. A secret message. A blank stare.

Late 19th century: “Buffalo calves were tied in the jungle as bait. About fifty elephants were sent out to circle the place where the tiger was likely to conceal itself. Then, when the ring was ready, orders were given for a couple of elephants to go inside and find out where the tiger was hidden. The tiger which remained encircled for such a long time usually got enraged, charging at the elephant that went near it. In the beginning it’s exciting, but after a while, the tiger becomes exhausted and lies down… With two or three rings being made a day, I have seen hundreds of tigers being shot.”
-Maharaja Bahadur Banali’s Acount in a Manual on Tiger Hunting.
I came across this account while I was watching a documentary on the British Empire. This documentary also went on to say that in just ten weeks, Viceroy Lord Linlithgow’s hunt killed 38 rhino, 27 leopards, 15 bears and 120 tigers. The visuals were shocking. Men standing over the corpses of scores of tigers. Congratulating each other for having brought home another rug. A rug with a blank stare.

There are centuries of memories. I have seen the tiger. I killed it. I will pay for it. I am the last Homo sapien left on earth. Possibly the last in the universe. I look up at the blank, cloudless skies. Just as blank, as the blank stare.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008


*Came across this poem in a book I'm reading and I thought a lot of the Nature Clubbers could relate*

Wander, wander,
the urge to roam,
to dance,
to fly,
to be,
the search for
the need to see
to go
to find
to search
to do,
my thirsts
so easily quenched
so close to home
and yours so grand,
so elegant,
so marvelous,
climbing mountaintops
and elephants
and tiger hunts
and dancing bears
and far off stars
and trips to mars
and all of it
so wild,
so vast,
so free,
as you go wander,
and then the best
part of all
when, satisfied,
and happy now,
you wander
to me.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Happy Birthday To Us!

29 years is a lot longer than most of us have walked the planet and it is has been one amazing ride. I haven’t been around for long but I have heard enough stories and plenty of ‘gyaan’ from the seniors to build my picture of how the past years have been.
At this point I have to make a disclaimer. Most people less than a couple of camps old will not be able to understand much of this article. But since this is the reunion special, I take the liberty of letting myself go on pen and paper (sorry, keyboard and monitor) here.
I have heard of all the beautiful places it has been to, and all the jungles it has explored. All the not-so-easy-on-the-backside- bus rides and all the towns wiped out of food! Cameras in the stream and eunuchs in the train! I have, in a way, been a part of it all.
What truly is the most amazing part of the experience is that every camp, every event has its story to tell. Something has always happened. The sleepless nights of the exhibitions and all the ambitious plans, some successful, others not so much!
For those of us who have been an active part of the Nature Club can probably never explain to anyone else what it is like. To be lost in forests somewhere, with no network, or to be stuck at sub-zero temperatures at one of the highest places in the country. To be stuck in a train for 60 hours or to just plunge into a random waterfall by the road!
Someone once saw the insect-bites I brought home from a camp and asked, “Why? Why do you guys do this to yourselves?”
I had no answer. Or at least no words to put it in. You have to experience it to know what it’s like. What it’s like to be a part of NC, and a part of this community. This remote sense of adventure and going to places where you would dare not set foot otherwise!
NC has also had some of the wittiest (and the most frustrating) jokes I have ever heard. Somehow, even in the darkest of situations, even when you know you’re in some serious trouble, there will always be someone who’ll come up with the odd wisecracks. And not just then, there are other times too. We are in a forest somewhere, and the COM (NC terminology) is talking about a rare tree or some bird call (which, by the way, I always pretend to hear, like most others) and someone would find something funny.
I have also met some amazing people here. The seniors who never carry food on treks and the juniors who are always noisy. The crazy nicknames everyone has and everyone’s individual, most specific quirks and that one poor guy (or girl) who becomes joke of the season.
Tradition too has been a part of NC. Each chairperson competes with the predecessor to beat the number of memberships! The dumb charades and the antaksharis with the same songs sung over and over again on every bus ride. The whacks, the exhibitions and the just-cant-take-one-more-step treks! It’s like rites of passage. Everyone goes through it and we are one proud lot! So let’s conclude this little trip down memory lane with…
“Sir! I just saw a spotted dove!”
“How do you know it was a spotted dove?”
“I just spotted it!”

Monday, 25 August 2008

Looking for 'Someday'

Kohima is a quiet town. Quiet on the outside, but look closely, and everyone is screaming within, silently. The manifestations of anger here are many and suppressed. It shows itself in a villager’s dao or maybe in that soldier’s uniform or in as a little child playing in the alley and in those quiet eyes that stare at us from the dingy houses in the bylanes. The anger is all around us in a cry for independence and a daily struggle for survival.In the middle of this chaos stands the Kohima War Cemetery. It is a gruesome reminder of the battle in Kohima between the Allied forces and the Japanese during the Second World War. The graves of the soldiers of the Allied forces lie in rows next to each other with a simple stone plate to tell the tale of the boy who lies six feet under.I use the word ‘boy’ for a reason. The soldiers were no older than twenty-five. Most were much younger. Lives cut short by a pointless war in which all nations were destroyed in victory or defeat. As I walked past the epitaphs, one in particular caught my attention. As I read it, it felt like something within me was sinking and falling away, leaving behind a void. A void with a question. A 22-year-old soldier’s parents had inscribed on his headstone:
“Our Beloved Son, gave his life so that we may live,Someday we will understand.”
The question wasn’t whether that ‘someday’ ever came. The question is that even today in Kohima and so many other parts of the world, parents are still looking for ‘someday’. At that moment nothing matters- patriotism, politics, war, peace, independence, courage, victory, defeat…hollow words. All that mattered was that a boy had lost his life. I began to wonder what his last moment could have been like. That one last painful, painless moment. The pride of having fallen at war? Or the regret of a life unfinished? Could anyone ever know?My eyes welled-up for a stranger who lay there below the ground. Why? Because his reality was no different than mine. A cruel irony, as I stood by a soldier’s grave, a convoy of military trucks passed by on the road below. There were boys there too. A fragile boundary between the soldiers above the ground and those below it, even sixty-three years later. Sixty-three years after a boy’s parents wished to come to terms with his death, we are still struggling to come to terms with our lives.

Someday we will understand

Friday, 22 August 2008


An account of my experience on evening on the banks of river Kameng in Bhalukpong, Arunachal Pradesh, this summer. This is the closest I could have come to describing it in words...I am sitting by the river staring at the water. Its flowing away to someone else. The white rocks on the river bed shine like giant dew drops perfectly round. And there is silence…It is a silence I haven’t known in a long time. No people talking, no TV blasting, no vehicles honking. Just a silent gushing of the river. A faraway bird calls from the trees on the other side. For a moment I try to place it in an encyclopaedia, in a bird book, in my mind. Almost immediately I give up, chasing away every thought. A strange thought-free floating state. And there is silence…There are people around me, who like me are hearing the silence. I lie down to move them out of my sight and to stare at the sky, free from human beings. A blue canvas spread across my eyes, till a cloud floats in to interrupt the monochrome. And there is silence…As I lie there, for a moment, I experience the rawness of being alive. For a moment, I have a sudden realization that I am but a part of the landscape, a part of the web, and my senses absorb it all. My clothes, shoes, watch, backpack….all seem alien, like they are distancing me from nature. And then, in my mind, for one moment, the boundaries begin to blur and I feel a sort of sinking, like I am melting into the rocks, becoming a part of them. For one moment I am no longer human, just alive, as alive as could be. And the moment is gone, And there is silence…