Nearly midnight, sleep defies me even as my muscles ache from the day’s exertions. Perhaps there is something in what is said about being too tired to sleep, to rest. It appears that this state of staring into the dark, trying to make shapes of the moonlight falling through the latticed ventilator, is something I must get used to, as much as I must get used to the madness of the city outside the walls of my haven, peopled as it is with rescued animals and their two-legged care-takers.
It is not with great joy that I leave my home whenever the compulsion to do so goads me. The menagerie is solace, as are the eagles who have built a nest in the mango tree, and the parrots and the myna birds who flit between sumbul, jamun, peepal and neem trees which tower into the sky, sentinels guarding me against the crowded streets, the chaotic roads, the cacophony of a society lost in the maze of the urban jungle they struggle to find their way through. There is so much I want to protect myself and the animals from, so much that is an affront to my sensibility: the flashy cars with the tinted windows (illegal) and the psychedelic number plates (illegal), the hands that lower the electronic windows to chuck out a discarded chips wrapper or empty juice box or used tissue. I have followed such vehicles like a vigilante, wanting to lower my window and to throw the trash back where it belongs, in the laps of the hooligans behind the steering wheels of unregistered cars, speeding away as if the cyclists, the donkey carts, the smaller vehicles packed with families, the rickshaws careening over with school children, the horse carts buckling under tons of cargo, the pedestrians desperate not to be crushed while crossing the road, as if none of these existed. All that lay between hooligan and his destination was a stretch of tarmac laid especially for him, for no one else but him, for his pleasure and privilege alone, for his cruising and schmoozing, for his speeding and screeching, for his driving ‘play-ure’ alone.
But I don’t do this. The anger stays, turns into disgust, then quietly creeps into the folds of my skin and forms a tight layer of regret around my heart. I have, in medical terms, an Enlarged Heart. This, I believe, has nothing to do with being generous. Rather, it is a condition (and doctors may differ, but who cares as long as I know what is true) that has come about with having to accommodate so much heartache that the muscles of this particular organ have just grown bigger, all the better to pump the blood which courses through veins clogged with the plaque of remorse. For how else would you explain a phenomenon where a person of reasonable intelligence and considerable sanity, decides to shut herself off from the city of her birth, emerging only when it is absolutely essential to do so, developing a sense that she no longer belongs, that this is, indeed, now another country? How else does one explain this need to shut out the mayhem that have become the streets of our cities, despite the multi-billion rupee mega-projects which have scarred the landscape like alien transplants, like life-forms from outer space which obliterate all that was precious, all that made this city ours?
It is difficult to recognise landmarks in most cities and towns as they rapidly transform into urban jungles
For seven years, the citizens of this city have struggled to reclaim it from the mafias that rule it. For seven years, we have warned the powers that be about the tragedy that is about to unfold: the irreversible destruction of green spaces and delicate eco-systems which give us not only the air we breathe but a sense of being one with the universe, of being at harmony with nature. These are the trees which shade us in summer, which flower in spring, which provide perches to the many birds which sing to us in our despair.
These are the trees which made this city of my birth an oasis in an otherwise arid land, a fraction of which is arable, the rest desert and mountain and wasteland.
For seven years we have fought a battle with a government which suffers from a syndrome known as Shrunken Brain. This is a condition which occurs when the eye can only behold the profits that can be accrued from the building of unnecessary infrastructure. It is a condition which affects those whose vision has only gone as far as Disneyland’s latest venture: ‘Do-buy’ and ‘Abbi-Dabbi’ with the tallest flagpoles planted in an effort to compensate for some other deficiency.
In a world where the greening of spaces has become the priority for the sake of sustainability and to combat the reality of climate change, only Shrunken Brain would spend Rs15billion to destroy yet more green spaces in order to facilitate seven per cent of the city’s citizens whose need to get to the motorway can only mean one thing: that they should not be late for the Convention on Mega-Bucks-through-Half-baked-Schemes where cartons of juice, packets of chips and stacks of tissue shall be available to chuck out onto the road for which we, hapless citizens, shall be paying through our noses, permanently blocked for the fumes left behind by Shrunken Brain in his Fatmobile.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 1st, 2015