Now that the ‘grand reset’ is in place, the world which we always took for granted has started slipping away from our grasp. But don’t just lose heart. Maybe it’s the best thing to have happened to us in a long, long time…. writes Ajay Suri
The swiftness with which nature has struck back has left us in awe. The two-month old videos of dolphins returning in the canals of Venice, or a family of geese walking with gay abandon on the tarmac of Tel Aviv Airport have become passe. The changes are happening all around and at breathtaking speed, in whichever part of the globe we may be.
Sipping my first cup of tea in the morning, I can hear more bird songs than I remember from the balcony of my flat in Delhi. The sky has turned decidedly bluer, the butterflies in the parks have started fluttering around in larger numbers. I am getting similar reports from Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Jaisalmer and many other places. The tipping point, of course, would be reached after the return of frogs and sparrows. These two, arguably the strongest indicators of healthy environment in cities, were among the first to leave India’s metros, as our electric gadgets, fuel guzzling automobiles and other creature comforts started creating bigger carbon footprint in the jungles of concrete.
My own experience as a nature photographer and wildlife filmmaker helped me observe some of the changes, even before the arrival of coronavirus. Only, most of us did not notice or pay heed to the positive changes. While some of these have been brought about by decisive intervention, others have happened by deliberate non-intervention on our part. The trick is to know which button to push without losing the sacred connection.
Tucked away in one corner of Uttarakhand and overshadowed by ‘big brother’ Corbett National Park is the almost forgotten Rajaji Tiger Reserve. Most people return from the edge of this enchanting place, after performing the ritualistic Ganga aarti at Haridwar’s Har-Ki-Paudi. Till about two decades ago, Rajaji Park was on a ventilator, so to speak. With no viable tiger population left, the park was at the tender mercies of thousands of ‘van gujjars’ whose makeshift abodes and large number of cattle were playing havoc with the national park’s eco-system.
At one point, it seemed like inevitible curtains for the park’s sprawling sal forests, grasslands, valleys and whatever wildlife it was left with. And then, the big change happened. Almost overnight, a few well meaning individuals — mainly forest officials and bureaucrats in the State Government — got together and paved the way for the relocation of ‘van gujjar’ families and their cattle outside the national park.
Today, with all squatters gone, Rajaji Tiger Reserve stands true to its name; it has over 20 tigers, a very healthy figure which is a far cry from its dismal past not too long ago. No longer is it gasping for breath in the ICU. Let me give one more example.
On the edge of the Thar desert near the Indo-Pak border, a unique battle is being fought, one which has largely escaped media attention. This is a tricky one, involving experts from Abu Dhabi, Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Rajasthan Forest Department and the Union Environment Ministry — all for the sake of the Greater Indian Bustard. With hardly 150 birds left in the wild, they are at the very edge of the abyss.
With a wing span of over seven feet, the Great Indian Bustard (it’s also the state bird of Rajasthan) is among the heaviest flying birds on Earth. The irony is that in the early 70s no less than Salim Ali, the renowned ornitholigist, pitched for appointing bustard as the national bird of India. But some ‘babus’ in New Delhi struck down the appeal — one reason being that the bird’s name rhymed with the word ba****d.
Now, of course, better sense has prevailed. Last year, Project Bustard was launched, and the hunt began in the deserts of Jaisalmer to find bustard eggs which could be artifically incubated. For this, a hatchery has already been set up in Jaisalmer. The Chief Wildlife Warden of Rajasthan, Arindam Tomar, had told me that this was “the last chance” for the Great Indian Bustard. Many such endeavours, at both individual and organisational levels, to retrieve the lost ground for nature and wildlife can be found all around us.
At times, decisive intervention is needed to obtain desired results. But more often than not, one only has to stand back and let the natural processes make necessary repairs. The maverick Greek philosopher Diogenes told this to Alexander the Great, when the latter approached him in his cave and inquired if he needed anything: “Just stay out of my sunshine.”
Perhaps this is what is required from us, to stay out of the nature’s light. Unwittingly, this is precisely what we have been doing during the past three months. The results of our “not doing” continue to amaze us every day. The crystal clear rainbow which people from Gurgaon to Hyderabad observed a few days ago, and the thousands of accompanying photographs which they posted on social media to express their astonishment, shows the miracles nature can churn out. If only we let it be.
I am sure people in most towns, villages and cities have have been experiencing these magical moments. Who would have ever thought of viewing snow-capped Himalayan peaks from Jalandhar and Saharanpur? These mircales are unfolding on an almost daily basis. Many people say the virus, besides reminding us of our fragile hold on life, has brought us closer to nature. Maybe so, but I like to believe our connection with nature was always intact. Only we forgot about it.
It’s just that we are beginning to wake up now to the wonders which can be re-created. Remember Robert Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz? While still a prisoner serving life imprisonment in the notorius Alcatraz jail, Stroud became the famous bird doctor, his education starting from the first wounded sparrow which flew inside his cell, demanding help. As for me, I am waiting for the frogs and sparrows to return.