Dehradoon used to be a small town I spent most of my summer holidays in. We would escape the opressive humidity of Mumbai right after school results, and head straight into the pulversing heat of Delhi in May. The scorching capital could never hold us for more than a couple of days and soon enough, we would find ourselves at the foothills of the Himalayas, where Dehradoon is nestled.
The palette of nostalgia is golden and so do forgive me a gilded narrative, but this is how I remember Dehradoon of my past, a town primarily known for its elite schools, cantonment and glorious weather. We rarely needed anything more than a humble celing fan in Doon even at the peak of Indian Summer. Litchi trees would sway in the backyard of every house. By the the third week of the May the rains would arrive – such amazing sound and light shows by way of thunderstorms that I have seldom witnessed anything parallel. A month in the Doon valley was constructed with blocks of family, food, nature walks and trips to hill stations like Mussoorie and Dhanolti. The mountains were green, cars few, and trees many. With the arrival of rains, seasonal rivers would flow down, bringing with them rocks, rich soil and minerals, rendering many a road unusable – for a while atleast. Dehradoon of my memory is golden, yes, but also it is luminously green.
Over the last two decades however, and especially after it was crowned the capital of Uttarakhand, each time I visit the valley, I come back with a lump in my throat and pain in my heart. The hills have been balded for wood and gouged for minerals and rock. Grey high speed expressways taint what was once a lazy agricultural landscape, and ugly flyovers many still under construction, dot the city. Houses now extend all the way from Dehradoon to Mussoorie, the two towns are now one, overflowing with concrete. The litchi trees are all gone. Characterless malls have usurped old bazaars and most houses have air conditioners to see them through summers. This small town, in its zeal to morph into a big city lost its character and charm, but does anyone care?
The Himalayas are being systematically killed. Murdered.
I am sure if I start digging for statistics, I could spit them out dime a dozen, but this post, which has been a long time coming, is more a cry of anguish than a scientific piece establishing that which is obvious for all to see. We are ruthlessly, foolishly destroying this planet in the name that Trojan horse – Development. And this is true everywhere. I was walking down the posh Bandra Bandstand seaface neighborhood of Mumbai in 2016 with my children, the tide was low and all they could see were mangroves covered in plastic bags. Plastic bottles and empty bags of chips were littered all over. All they could smell was the smell of sea mixed with the smell of shit.
I see no trees in Gurgaon. I see only concrete in Manhattan. I hear of fish dying because of plastic they ingested, and humans dying in Karachi heatwave. Karachi! I see Americans wasting everything- from food to toilet paper, with zero understanding of how that food gets to their plates. How many animals never really live even while alive, just to feed them. How many trees are killed for their houses, paper and tissues. The huge dollops of ketchup routinely left on plates, plastic straws used once and tossed carelessly for Mother Earth to process. The popcorn thrown at each other as a party game.
It’s mindboggling how stupid our species can be.
This World Environment Day, my biggest hope rests in our children. I see them being educated about the mayhem prior generations have caused, and how they can help correct the equilibrium. People like my friend Stacy, rabid about environmental causes provide me succour. We all have to pitch in, we must, else it is all going to be such a huge waste.
Because I would really like to see the Himalayan foothills green again, one day. And my children would want to see Mumbai beaches as I saw them. Someday.