We need to stop taking our environment for granted
It was mid-morning on a delightfully balmy October day in Himachal Pradesh. We were fishing in a long and beautiful stretch of the river, which offers a mesmerising vista of the valley. I was standing below a bridge, about to cast into an eddy forming at a distance in the river, which entailed some risk of getting your tackle stuck, where I was pretty sure of catching trout (and later in the day I did). My feet were submerged in frigid water, while fording the river, but I didn't mind. The wind picked up, but the sun was warm and comforting.
For once I felt wholly alive and at one with my surroundings. I heard the rumble of the bus as it crossed the bridge overhead and, a moment later I saw a plastic cola bottle, almost in slow motion, gliding gently in the air, and fall into the water not far from where I was standing. My heart sank like a stone.
The spell was broken.
As I walked upstream along the river I saw packets of wafers, chocolates and biscuits and plastic bottles of cold drinks among the rocks. Everywhere I looked I saw garbage and filth that someone had left behind. Even though the river was unusually clear at this time of the year, and we could see trout and barbell in the shallow stretches of the water if we peered closely – I was seeing an unusual amount of plastic floating in the river. This was the river I had grown up with. When I was little I remember I would cup my hands and drink the pure snowmelt Himalayan water without ever worrying about falling unwell.
When we were done fishing the stretch for the day I remember walking up where the car was parked. All along the way I spotted either little tobacco sachets or other waste strewn over the ground. And at one point I stopped and look around at the thick cover of the forest trees revealing glimpses of the river and the bluest of skies that people living in Delhi have forgotten what they look like and couldn’t help lament to myself how we — as a people — have arrived at this point in time that we have completely stopped caring for our nature.
What parts of our brain have switched off that we can justify to ourselves that it's okay to throw waste and desecrate a place of such divine natural beauty? Why do we assume and take for granted that the blue skies and clean water will last forever when it’s already dying in front of us? Does this apathy for our surroundings stem from self-loathing and lack of compassion? Or is it just sheer human arrogance?
My uncle who grew up in Delhi remembers a time he and his father used to fish in the Jamuna. When the water ran swift and was also blue. There used to be forest cabins in Okhla where they used to stay over long weekends. And since it wasn't very far from home, my grandmother would send hot meals in tiffins across to them.
Every time I cross the DND flyway I take a look at the river that used to once teem with fish and it fills me with dread. I can see a slick of oil and chemicals form and unspool on the surface of the water. There's a low mist of pollution that hangs above the water. It seems straight out of dystopia.
Even though today there is talk of wildlife and environment conservation, there is less awareness of what we stand to lose in time to come. While it's easier to be disillusioned by the tardiness of municipal corporations and governments, the onus also lies on us collectively to protect our environment. If we don't start today, within our lifetimes we will see a huge drop in the ecosystem. A concerted effort on our part will be required to make a massive change. It takes a week to raze a forest, almost a thousand years to create one.
If we can't stop from what’s to come, who can?