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Travelling back to the past

"We stand now where two roads diverge. The road we have been travelling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one "less travelled by" — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth." So said Rachel Carson in Silent Spring.

I am also reminded of Gieve Patel’s poem On Killing a Tree as I witness the mass felling of trees all around me. As the poet says, each tree "has grown slowly consuming the earth/Rising out of it, feeding/Upon its crust, absorbing/Years of sunlight, air, water..."

And to kill a tree, "The root is to be pulled out—/Out of the anchoring earth;/...hidden for years inside the earth."

In front of my home there is a road with centuries-old gigantic mango trees on both sides. Each tree is an ecosystem in itself. The road is supposed to be have been constructed by Tippu Sultan’s Army during the invasion of Malabar in the 18th century and the trees were also planted by his men. Now this road is being widened, felling all those trees.

Kerala has been witnessing the fury of the elements for the past three years — a devastating flood in August 2018 that killed more than 500 people and washed away many homes; a massive landslip in August 2019 that buried 55 people alive; another one in August 2020 that buried 75 people alive — as a result of such insensitivity to Nature in the name of development.

Still such insensitivity continues. The "development" juggernaut still rolls over everything that is natural and sustainable. Trees are uprooted, paddy fields are filled, granite quarrying continues to shatter the Western Ghats, habitats of the diverse flora and fauna shrink, biodiversity vanishes and yet nothing is learnt or done to live sustainably.

The roots which have been hidden inside the earth for centuries are being pulled out. The trunks that grew absorbing centuries of sunlight, air and water are being killed.

H.G. Wells’ Time Traveller in The Time Machine invents a time machine and travels into the future, crash-lands into the year 802,701 and finds a decadent human race. He says: "The great triumph of humanity I had dreamed of took a different shape in my mind. It had been no such triumph of moral education and general cooperation as I had imagined. Instead, I saw a real aristocracy, armed with a perfected science and working to a logical conclusion the industrial system of today. Its triumph had not been simply a triumph over Nature, but a triumph over Nature and fellow-man."

I wish to invent a time machine that travels not into the future, because I know the humans have no future at all if they don’t stop the so-called development that kills the sustainable environment. Hence, I wish to invent a time machine that travels back to the past.

I don’t wish to travel back centuries. I want to travel just 35 years back, into the beginning of 1980s when I was in my teens, when plastic carry bags or covers were not seen or heard in my village; when we used to go to grocery shops with cloth bags in our hands, when we had endless paddy fields in our villages, when we had fresh vegetables cultivated in our own backyards without pesticides that cause cancer; when our water sources were replenished by punctual monsoons; when our roadsides were not polluted with poultry waste dumped unseen at night; when poultry farms and junk food were not even heard of; when plastic was not seen everywhere choking the atmosphere and the pristine village landscape.

I wish to travel back to my teens when we had many open places in my village; when every household had its own cattle; when we the children of each village played in the many open places which were our playgrounds and pasture of our cattle; when we used to see lapwings and hear their intermittent sweet chirps in the open places adjacent to the paddy fields; when we used to regularly see water hens in the paddy fields and near the waterbodies; when we used to hear the howling of the foxes and the hooting of the owls at night; when we had all around us innumerable indigenous trees and plants and creepers that used to absorb the summer heat; when land was not real estate for us; when the spacious compounds in the village were the habitats of foxes, wild lizards and many other flora and fauna that were the integral part of our biodiversity.

I wish to travel back to my teens when we used to eat mango fruits fallen or plucked from the indigenous mango trees that were plenty around us; when we used to eat jack fruits plucked from our own jack fruit trees that were plenty in the villages; when there were plenty of wild flowers in the creepers that used to climb on the bamboo thorn fences; when there were butterflies and bees around these flowers; when there were innumerable dragonflies in the villages; when children used to run after the butterflies and dragonflies; when children used to play in the harvested paddy fields; when children used to go to school by walking and enjoying the cool shade provided by the canopy of the centuries-old gigantic trees that stood on both sides of the road; when there were no heavy traffic to knock down the pedestrians; when we used to play even on the roads as there were only an occasional bus service; when bullock carts were the only vehicles that were seen always on our roads and they never knocked down people; when bicycles were considered the most desired private vehicle and having one used to be our great ambition.

I wish to travel into a time (past or future) when people won’t deprive the diverse flora and fauna of their right to exist. I wish to travel into a time (past or future) when people will abandon the plans for roads and airports and railways to save trees and forests, to save diversity of life on earth and to live sustainably.

lscvsuku@gmail.com

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2020 8:51:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/travelling-back-to-the-past/article33150793.ece

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