/September 15, 2013
Driving down the mountains of western India to sea level during the monsoons is possibly what Dorothy must have encountered when she entered the Emerald city in search of the Wizard of Oz. Verdant green and picturesque. As you drive down the hairpin bends you pass clusters of teak trees and huge bamboo plants all part of the copious green emerald forests. The Wizard of OZ was a mystery to Dorothy, an unknown. Dorothy had been told that the Wizard had the power to transport her home ! I pass through the lush green forest and feel transposed to a higher level .The level that resides in my soul, within me but yet constantly alludes me, the level that my soul identifies as ‘Home’ .
Rain hits the windscreen and the motion of the wiper-blades lull me into a somnambulistic state. The windows are rolled down and I feel the spray of rain on my face, the breeze blowing my hair . The chirping of birds, an occasional cry of a peacock, and the sound of beetles are the only sounds I register. Driving down the mountains I look far into the distance, water falls, clumps of trees, green fields, undulating hills . The sun peeps through the clouds that open now and then to reveal the far away horizon. Is the feeling of completion that I suddenly witness similar to the feeling of finding Home within me? I remember a Sufi poet who said “ Am I in the world ? or is the world there because I am there to perceive it ? “
/April 17, 2008
The house was silent late in the night and she lay on her back, frail and tired in her room which had been made into a small hospital room for her. She looked up to see the fan rotating constantly the purr of the blades moving the air. Who said “air made no noise “? “ Cant you hear the dull grey sound the fan makes – like the insipid taste of yoghurt ?” she asked herself . She lay on her back, it was the end of the ‘diwali’ season, the day that is supposed to be a day of celebration in India , the day when the whole country was lit up with decorative lights . She had celebrated Diwali for 94 years she thought to herself “and this would be the 95th “
The only other sound she could hear was the sound of the lift go up and down, up and down…… all five floors. “They called a ‘lift’ an elevator in America”, she thought to herself “ that’s where I had studied in the 40’s in Michigan Ann Arbor” . Her memories were rambling – the years in between had no chronology, no value ! Every time the lift came up she could feel her weakened intestines constrict supporting the ascent of the lift and the weight of the passengers and every time the lift went down she felt her guts relax. This constant contraction and release reminded her of so many things in her life which she had faced .
She imagined the wizened lift man Aziz going up and down in the lift. She had seen him for the first time almost 40 years ago, when he was a young man fresh from his distant village. Through the years she saw a young man metamorphise kafka-esque into an old man with a stoop and a toothless grin! . Did he also have to bear the load of each passenger that he transported up ? She smiled knowingly that he would shortly tell everyone, that, he was finally going to retire and go back to his village and therefore collect money from all the residents as a baksheesh for good service and as his “goodwill pension”. Over the last ten years he had done this thrice before and everyone humored him because he knew the comings and goings and the deep secrets into each of the tenants families. She knew he would return again ! She always associated him with the colour of brown , his dark tanned skin , his brown teeth , his brown uniform.
Lying down in bed bored, restless with the tubes of the life support machine entering her emaciated body she was strangely at peace. The crescendo of the lift as it went up and the waning sound at its descent and the constant purring of the fan gave her the answer. Life would still go on …”up and down, ….up and down” . She knew that she had only a few more days to live …. It was a relief, soon the silence that would surround her would have no purring and no up and down ……only silence !
I am a jamun fruit tree and I live in a forest where the local tribals love nature! They used to call us trees their friends and they used to sing and dance around us. They were known as the Bishnoi tribe and this tribe were scattered over several parts of north India. But their livelihood came from our produce, they would sell or eat the fruit, they would use our branches for shade and if they had to build a hut they would cut only the branches that they needed and use our dry bark for firewood. But I have heard that there are others who don’t care about their trees and they are willing to cut them down. These people don’t realize that it is our roots that keep the nutrients in the ground and it is because of our roots that land erosion during the floods do not happen.
I remember the story of brave Amrita. She was a young Bishnoi girl and she was walking in the forest with her friends when she saw some guards from a distant kingdom enter the forest. The guards told the young girls that they had come to the forest to cut down a few trunks of trees because the king wanted the wood to build a summer palace . The girls panicked and immediately went and circled the trunks of the trees with their arms. The guards got angry and told the girls to stop hugging the trees and go back home.
Amrita said “ No , we are Bishnois and we love our trees and nature and we cannot let you cut down the tree. You will have to cut us down first.” Another young girl said “ We are Bishnois and we believe in doing “Chipko” to the tree. Chipko in our language means to hug the tree.
The guards furiously retorted “Please don’t do this, please don’t obstruct us from cutting down the tree – because the king has given his orders and we will be compelled to hurt you against our wishes !”
The next night the king heard the unfortunate story of these brave girls and passed through the forest. He had been shocked to hear about the merciless behavior of his guards. Expecting the little hamlet to be in gloom he was surprised to see the village celebrating.
“ We believe in preserving our forests Your Majesty , for us our forests are our life and our means to a livelihood. Our daughters have gone to a noble death but if they had not done what they had done yesterday they would not have been able to stop your men from cutting our most prized possession – our trees. The death of the trees is the death of mankind ! ”
“It is when I hear this story again and again” said the jamun tree “that I feel that my life has well been worth it !”