We all have some vivid memories of our childhood. Mine were my summer vacations when I was in school. I waited impatiently for this time of the year. Those 2 months were my reward for being good the entire year. Back then happiness came in very small packets. Playing outdoor games with your friends, that Sunday evening movie on TV, and a family trip to your hometown, Shimla.
Shimla was my grandparent’s house. While my grandmother stayed with us in Delhi, it was my grandfather who juggled between the 2 cities. Like me his heart too was stuck in this beautiful city. Though surrounded by snow clad mountains, there was no place warmer than Shimla for me. It had the warmth of my grandfather’s love in it. Our house was situated very close to the State Museum. Built in colonial style, the museum was surrounded by a beautiful garden and a breathtaking view of the mountain range. I spent most of my time playing in the lawns of the museum. It was my small world. This city was a dream and time spent here was complete bliss. This place was like a child’s magical world, where I played with butterflies and watched toy train pass by pine trees from my balcony, pluck flowers while it rained and walked miles and miles holding my father’s finger without ever feeling tired. Shimla was my refuge.
Delhi felt distant to me and people disconnected almost a week before my vacations started. I literally used to count days for the trip to start. For me the journey was as exciting as the destination was. We traveled by the roadways bus. And I always grabbed the window seat. I had no competition then. My brother was too young to fight for his rights. So I had the luxury of sticking my head out of the window almost throughout the journey, oblivious to everyone around me. Till Kalka it used to be a long wait. The land forms changed from Kalka. Plains gave way to the beautiful hills. And that’s when my excitement doubled. I used to dreamily look outside the window, mesmerized by the lush valley. I still remember how the beautiful pine and cedar trees danced playfully with the winds as if rejoicing my visit. The cool breeze caressed my face and tiny drops of rain kissed my forehead. Swinging happily to the curvaceous mountain roads and listening to the song ‘Sun Sahiba Sun’ playing in the bus. I never wanted this journey to end.
I grew older and got consumed by work and social life .Priorities shifted, so did the focus. The hustle and bustle of the city lured me more than the calmness of the mountains. And with my grandfather’s demise, the gap got wider. Work and pleasure trips replaced my visit to my hometown. But whenever I felt low and down, I used to close my eyes and cherished those magical moments. And, I always came back smiling.
After many years of disconnect, in 2018, Shimla was in news. Being one of the biggest tourist destination and economically dependent majorly on the outer footfall. The locals were pleading tourists, not to come to Shimla. “Choose other tourists destination for your vacations”. Don’t come to Shimla, the locals begged. This headline jolted me. Shimla was parched. Residents were struggling for the basic. There was no water for them. We usually don’t value someone or something until we are at the verge of losing it. I struggled with a similar feeling after this news.
I decided to re visit my home town.
While driving down I kept thinking to myself that things can’t be that bad, maybe the water problem is in some parts and it’s temporary. I still remember during my childhood how we always used to store water in huge buckets and containers as taps went dry occasionally. Shimla I knew was never abundant in water supply. There are no water bodies near the main city and closet river, the Sutlej, is about 21 km away. The existing water sources get their supplies from the tributaries and sub tributaries of Sutlej and Yamuna (Giri and Pabbar). It’s been more than a decade and Shimla still hasn’t found a solution to this crisis. My mind kept contemplating the situation.
“Only mankind is interested in results. Nature only wants to know your intentions”~ Ruzbeh. N. Bharucha
I was nervous, as if meeting someone very close after years. I was also excited to be back to the place where the best memories of my childhood were hidden. But as I entered the hills, WORK IN PROGRESS boards were flashed on my face. Everything had changed. My heart sank to see the plight. It was destruction everywhere. The roads that felt like swings were now a bumpy ride. Mountains were all bruised and the tall pine and cedar trees once dancing and rejoicing my arrival lay dead, crying for help. This time I had no courage to roll down my car window as there was no cool breeze to caress me but an angry storm of dust trying to fight with me. For what took me so long to come back. The tiny drops of rain just felt like tears piercing through my soul to see the plight of the valley. It was a nightmare.
All this was the result of the four-laning project of the 120km stretch connecting Chandigarh- Shimla. At the estimated cost of Rs 2,730 Crore this project will also involve creation of 11 tunnels. The completion of the four lanes would cut short the travel time and will provide relief from long traffic jams, esp. during the tourist season. More than 30,000 trees will be axed to make humanity travel with ease. Well! It took me roughly 6 hrs to reach Shimla that day. And those 6 hours were the most grueling hours for my life.
When I reached the city, things were no different. It was not the city I grew up in. There were no hills left in this hill station now. All you could see were houses, motels, hotels everywhere. No green just concrete. Haphazard construction made my heart sink. How have we forgotten that this city is a zone IV (High damage risk zone) as per the earthquake hazard zoning of India. And the poor construction techniques were adding serious threat to the already prone area. The town which is actually designed to house only 25,000 people is now home to more than 2 lakh people.
But we seem to ignore this serious fact. Construction and deforestation has never stopped. Not only the connecting roads but the entire city is under threat. Increasing population, unplanned urban growth, large scale deforestation and a 40% rise in tourist’s footfall every year. We had all the factors for a city to crumble. But we never made any effort to safe guard it. We have only exhausted the resources for our benefits. Never seemed too concern about the depleting water levels or increasing hold of timber mafia. And now this four laning. Forests are being wiped out. Rains which help in filling up the water sources, have now become a nightmare with frequent landslides. But we are OK with it. We just need mansions to live in. We’ll scream and cry and blame the nature if it fails to satisfy us. But we will make no effort to save it. Why can’t we see that we are getting tied up in this vicious circle? The reduced green cover of the state is a big reason behind the water scarcity. Fancy houses connected by multiple lanes are what we aim to pass on to our generations. But without water and clean air there will be no survival. Water harvesting, planned urban development and afforestation are few effective measures which money should be spent on. By destroying nature and building highways to shorten the travel time, let’s not forget we are actually shortening our Life time.
“Maybe you are searching among the branches for what only appears in the roots”~ RUMI
I am appalled by the atrocities done by us to the nature. I simply refuse to get the idea of connecting people at the cost of nature. I know I have no right to be angry. I left it unattended for years to live a life that I fancied. Got busy pleasing the world and living up to its standards. I had learnt to put up with the world. Even when my emotions and moments were all crumbled up I still knew how to wrap it up beautifully in frills and embellishments and show case it on the social platforms for approvals and acceptance. But I forgot my obligations to my roots. Neglecting what needed my attention the most. We can’t turn our backs on whatever once gave us strength and a reason to smile. I am glad that now I frequently go to my hometown.
Sometimes going back to the roots is a way of saying that you CARE.
This is so beautifully expressed and so heartfelt. I could almost visualise every paragraph and the heaviness of your heart..
It is so true, no matter where we go, we should always remember where we belong because that is what makes our soul..
So moving ….Shivani …something died in me when I read…these lines..”this time I had no courage to roll down my car window as there was no cool breeze to caress me but an angry storm of dust trying to fight with me. For what took me so long to come back.” Though I have never been to Shimla, but the stark comparison to 20-30 yrs back is just painfully striking. But how people who lived there let it happen?
Even Delhi as I remember was something else..the summers weren’t so harsh, the monsoons were pleasant…..and the winters were even colder… I knew what it took to get to school in those chilly winter mornings. There is a climate change as we say it…
It takes a responsibility to make ourselves and children of this generation to grow and sow more… that’s only how the next generation can get closer to nature. Else 30yrs down the line the same feelings this generation will have. Surely, we need to get back to our roots.
Reading Ruskin Bond in school meets NDTV reporter meets Leo. I felt nostalgic reading about such cherished memories and concerned at something we already know / see around us.
The piece feels like a perfect 3-course meal, balanced. Can’t wait for the next one!
So achingly beautiful! ?
What a great blog! Took me all the way to Simla from Washington DC. No borders for good memories.