Earth Day 2012 on top of the World

I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests

Pablo Neruda

It was almost 9.30 p.m  as Jan Shatabdi Express from Delhi sluggishly rolled in alongside Dehradun. I left the comfort of the air conditioned chair-car, anticipation eating into me and was breathing the familiar Indian Rail station smell. No, I did not grow up in this town and my poetry is novice. But I am in eternal tug and pull between hill and river; I saw life in great river country of Bengal and fell in love with it. Yet Himalaya with its lofty heights and ancient stories beckoned me all my life. Presently, on this railway platform, I was going to meet a friend whom I have not seen with my eyes. It could not get any more exciting!

For those who do not know, Dehradun, once an idyllic small town with breathtaking beauty now turned into a throbbing bustling city aspiring to prosper to the scale of Delhi, just 256 kilometers away. This is also the Capital of the mountain state of India, named Uttarakhand (Uttara meaning Northern and Khand meaning a part of land – in Sanskrit) – a state lying on the southern slope of Himalaya range spanning majestically over 53,566 km², of which 93% is mountainous and 64% is covered by forest. If you can imagine a land almost like a stair starting from 315 meters above sea level rising up to 3500 meter above sea level, a land where in the same time of year one end sweats it out under sun and the other end shivers in woolens – you will not be surprised here. Stranger, however, is the deep religious connection of the land, also called Dev Bhumi (Land of Gods), where people still worship mythical characters from the great epic of Mahabharata and numerous trails end up with many holy Hindu temples and cities found throughout the state, some of which are among Hinduism’s most spiritual and auspicious places of pilgrimage and worship.

For 20 over years I am having a tryst with the city of Dehradun, neatly perched on Doon valley in a semi-circular arc; and one running at the south from Poanta Sahib to Haridwar. As my friend Kashinath drove me through the late night streets of the city, I was struck by a sense of destiny. The warmth of friendship could be traced in the tradition of the people – people from Garhwal and Kumaun – and my journey will never be complete if I cannot share their life and struggle.

This forest and hill state and its people have remained traditionally close to nature and conservation. Their unwillingness to buy everything that urbanization and development offer is documented in history through Chipko movement ((literally “to cling” in Hindi)- a social-ecological movement that practiced the Gandhian methods of satyagraha and non-violent resistance, through the act of hugging trees to protect them from being felled. I came here hoping to meet the legendary Sundarlal Bahuguna who walked 5000 km to spread the philosophy. I missed a meeting with him under time constraint but still could appreciate the courage and honesty of the people of hills because deforestation and mainstream development go hand in hand – to choose trees is a certificate to neglect and poverty.

In few days I stayed in Dehradun and worked closely with my friends speaking to people, the literati and commoner alike; the congestion, dust, heat and dirt of a fast urbanizing city could not distract me from noticing the profound underlying love and care for the simple yet advanced view towards Nature and Earth. My friend Kashinath gave up a career and a world class education with a dream to come back to his people. He runs an initiative of knowledge networking for mountain people – a small NGO – with a big dream of redefining development and growth in the mountains. His enthusiasm and sincerity are palpable. Take also, Jay Prakash Panwar, an anthropologist turned communication specialist who built a studio and a communication channel out of thin air to tell mountain stories. These are men who are into hard work translating their dreams into actions. I am not surprised much because such honest conviction and courage to pursue it are the natural chemistry of Uttarakhand.

My sojourn in Dehradun and Kashinath’s enthusiasm made it possible to have a conversation with ‘Mountain Man’ Dr. Anil Prakash Joshi , another legend of the area. When young Joshi wanted to work for the poor villagers of the mountains, the story goes; they did not take him seriously. They insisted that the problems of their lives could not be understood by someone who did not live with them. Joshi came to live with them, and created history by his living. When I met him in his earthen hut his smiling face belied the authority and position he commands internationally because he spoke very little about himself. You can have some information about this wonderful man .

Since the time I was writing on Himalayan Glacial melt and citing Dr. S.P.Singh’s articles as source, I wanted to meet the former Vice Chancellor of HNB Garhwal University. When I met him, he reminded me of my University days and few professors with whom I bonded. The soft spoken teacher now heads an NGO named CEDAR (Centre for Ecology, Development and Research) where he diverts huge experience and research that he gathered during his tenure as Advisor, Planning Commission of India.

Dr. Malavika Chauhan, sounded weary of stereotyping women of the mountains as epitome of resilence, courage and strength. Her kind face looked saddened about the brutal and harsh reality of village women she witnessed in course her work with them through her organization, Himmotthan Society . Mountain women needed a break, she said.

These leaders are seeing an imminent change in the life view of their people from vantage points. But as said to us, ‘the terrible mistake that planners make is to think that everything is going to be solved by technology,’ the people of the mountains and their intellectual leadership seem to understand now that the sustainable growth in the mountains is possibly not through blindly following the mainstream growth models, which are basically suited for plains. Such models are dependent of requirement of space for areal expansion and ground stability – and mountains lack both. Though Dehradun has an impressive literacy rate, 92.65% in males and 85.66% in females and it has remained a city favored with old prestigious centres of excellence for learning like Doon University, Forest Research Institute, Indian Military Academy, making average literacy of the whole state as 80%, which is much higher than many parts of India, economic growth for the people remained below par. Raphael insisted that this is because of a cultural disconnect between the ‘laid back and easy going’ attitude of the people (which he considered as a quality nonetheless) and the competitive career based education that goes well with a consumerist economy.

People from the mountain are elevated in a fundamental sense of life. They need an idea of excellence and growth of their own. Dinesh Nautial of Kishanpur village lamented about the fact that he needed to take couple of hour’s journey to reach his school and spend Rupees 50 everyday on transport alone. We cannot suppress such anguish with the abundance of Convent Schools for long.

The following video is a result of my personal interaction of the people of the mountains where they express their thoughts, anxieties and hopes as the world is going to celebrate Earth Day on 22 April. I had to leave out many interesting conversations including those of Cyril Raphael on account of time constraint. But please keep checking Climate Himalaya as we are coming up with a whole new video section there to post videos regularly.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Feature Photo Credit: India Travel Blog

2 Comments

  • We need something like the “Gandhian methods of satyagraha and non-violent resistance, through the act of hugging trees to protect them from being felled.” to hug and protect the Earth.

    • We certainly do. Honestly, I am not very selfless about it. I am pretty worried about the world my next generation is going to live.

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