Nature's Fury and the Time to Take Stock

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Nisha JamVwal analyses the state of the world today with reference to the Uttarakhand disaster and highlights the need to live in harmony with nature

The worth of nature
As mundane as it may seem compared to nanotechnology, space flight, Mars landing and flying cars, it is still important to plant trees, on a small scale or a large scale. Considering the devastation of Uttarakhand and the increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, a tree cover is essential to prevent fatal soil erosion. My pious pundit proclaims that it is Lord Shiva doing the angry tandav meted out to his mountain, and the news channels shout political machineries that were negligent, but I believe the time to find fault is later. It is now time to worry about our environment. And this is India, the land that from ancient times has been steeped in a culture respectful of nature to the point of devotion. This is also true of other prominent civilizations in China and Japan. Even today in Japan one washes one’s feet before entering a garden – as one would before entering a temple.

 A dead planet
My favorite animation film depicts a horrific future where Earth has become an uninhabitable dumping yard with layers of plastic, waste and detritus of human lifestyle. This poignant and dark depiction should set us all thinking. Another favorite, Erin Brockovich is a movie about us. Just one company’s lack of concern for the environment can do damage to very large populations. But we are the ones, individually and collectively, who need to be watchful and prevent this carelessness.

No takers for the environment
The level of concern and interest for the environment in India is way below than in the West – perhaps with our large population, survival in the normal course is such a struggle that concern for nature diminishes. I personally feel passionately about environmental issues, never before than now, having watched the death toll at Uttarakhand. Be it global warming, pollution, noise, denudation of forests, extinction of flora and fauna, waste of resources and energy, over-population or traffic emissions – we need to control our impact on the environment. Most environmental issues are reflective of the lack of concern for the next man’s needs or those of the next generations.
Many people tend to dismiss these issues with the attitude that a single person can make no difference. I am dismayed at this callousness and arrogance that eats through resources for self-gratification with little cognizance toward other life. There is so much each one of us can do – and Erin is a good example (that movie is based on a true story). Environmental issues should be a burning concern and have to be urgently addressed if we are to make peace with our conscience.

India’s history with nature
In Vedic times, that forests and trees are sources of well-being was understood at all levels. The  anctity of all living things is a constant theme in the literature and religious and scientific treatises of those times. An entire branch of science, Vrishayur ( vrish mening tree and ayur meaning health), revolving around these aspects developed. There were sacred groves  appropriated to temples. Certain trees were sacred to certain deities and were not to be cut. It is believed that the tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment still lives in Sri Lanka, from a branch graft carried there in Emperor Ashoka’s time.
Certain flowers are sacred to particular gods. Many flora and fauna were given specific persona and treated with love and respect. There is a charming story in Kalidasa’s play is bidding goodbye to her ‘sisters’, the trees, as she leaves to be married, and instructs her friends to care of them. In the same play, an ascetic in a hermitage restrains the monarch Dushyant from releasing an arrow upon a deer, saying, “Your weapon was meant to protect the weak, not smite the innocent!”

“We need new creation of myths to repair the damage done by our recklessly mechanical abuse of nature and to restore the balance between man and the rest of the organisms with which he shares the planet.”
– Simon Schema

Indian mythology abounds in tales structured around such harmonies – Krishna revelled in the forest; Rama, during his exile, displays a relationship of harmony and loving co-existence with nature. The forest nurtures him with fruits, berries, nuts and roots, and bark for clothing. The birds and animals are his devotees, friends and aides. a world of lush forests of fragrant beauty, abodes of sages and saints. The portrayal is of an environment that is ever nurturing of the spiritual self of man. An ancient text called Mangalashtaka ten trees and expresses hope that this flowering grove may herald the wellbeing of the whole world! This affinity for planting trees and increasing greenery is strong through India’s history as we know from the accounts of Chinese traveller Huen-Tsang, the diktats of Kautilya, the edicts of Ashoka, and until more ecently, from the Mughals with their penchant for creating garden ‘paradises’ on Earth.

Environmental damage today
Unfortunately, today’s whirlwind of development has flung this heritage to the background, almost obliterating our cultural imprint. We are denuding forests and hillsides, and putting up unplanned residential developments and toxic waste-spewing industries, robbing our noble species of their habitat and driving them to extinction. There is lack of vision of the larger picture, driven by apathy, lethargy, indifference and corruption. In this land of karma where every cause is said to bear irredeemably upon the effect, every wasteful, unconcerned act that causes some loss or damage or hurt somewhere is as much a part of my karmic record as another’s. We have seen the repercussions in Uttarakhand and the devastating effects with the rising of the sea level when it envelops lands and heritage structures. Yet people gleefully fling plastic bags everywhere. We waste electricity, water and energy, choking the cities with a surfeit of cars, when less would do.
It is time that we remind ourselves and other Indians of our beautiful heritage which teaches that all things that exist – plants, animals, humans – are made of the same prana or vital breath. We must gratefully nurture the environment that bountifully nurtures us. And, however modest the scale, any effort at concern beyond one’s own self will make a difference. Just as a ripple follows a ripple when one throws a stone in a still pond, today I think of my brother, tomorrow of my neighbour, and the day after of the world.

Volume 3 Issue 2