Here I am, back with another story. I write this standing in the witness box, speaking the truth and only the truth. Last time, I wrote about a river; this time, it’s about space. No, not the outer space, but the space around us. It brings me back to my roots and where I was raised as a child. In this sense, I suppose I’m grateful and more privileged. 20 years ago, Nagarbhavi, the place where I’ve spent most of my life was a serene and green space. Now you know what space I’m talking about!
My father always told us that we’re living in the Vrushabhavathi valley, surrounded by hills and a gushing river (except it’s a restraining drain now). When I was a kid, I would set off to climb these hills on the weekends. Accompanied by other neighborhood kids, we experienced the joy of the real outdoors.
Of these hills I’m talking about, one of them was located a little farther off from my home and my mother was skeptical of sending me that far. And when she thought I was old enough to go there and come back home safely, the first visit to the forbidden land was magical in itself as this hill was bigger and more imposing than the other one. Maybe the grass is greener on the other side!
But my best experience here was witnessing a hare. Yes, an actual rabbit-hare. It was right there and without really realizing its presence, we kids continued heading in its direction. And suddenly it leaped out of the bushes and off it went. I remember shrieking with joy, shock, and above all, amazement.
After some more exploring, I came home grinning ear to ear. I couldn’t wait to share what I had just seen. As a 10-year-old, I was encouraged to go for more such exploring expeditions. And more importantly, I was taught to always protect and never harm whatever I see. Help, but never hurt.
But a couple of years later, when I retold the same story of the leaping hare, no one believed me. And why would they? That bush was razed down for roads and buildings. The hill had turned into a dollar mine sitting on a peak of commercial space. And everyone wanted a piece of this natural landscape to build their commercial empire. Buildings sprang, tarred roads were paved, and high walls were raised.
I was a witness to this too. The hills I used to play at were levelled down. Once upon a time, the auto-rickshaws refused to come to this vast empty space, but suddenly we saw a huge population move in. And before we even realized what was happening, everything had changed. Huge boulders and poking shrubs that used to be a home for various grassland fauna vanished right before our eyes. We were no longer visited by snakes, different species of frogs (some would leap so high, we really believed they could fly!), scorpions, chameleon, mongoose, and my beloved hare. We no longer woke up to the melody of peacocks, sparrows, Greater Coucal, and kingfishers; nor did we hear the hoot of the owls at night.
All of this has happened over the span of twenty years. And I’m to blame too. If we hadn’t moved here, maybe some more snakes and hares would have survived, I don’t know. But what I do know is that change is inevitable. The only thing constant is change and we’re all part of it. I have many unanswered questions- change at what cost? This change- is it worth it? If we keep changing at this rate- where will that take us?
When people stopped believing the hare story, I was disappointed. But today, what disappoints me more is that the next generation will never know what it is to live in Bangalore without ever seeing these hills and enjoying these open spaces. I’ve vowed to speak the truth and only the truth. And here it is- everything I’ve witnessed as a child and what I witness even today. I’ve also come to a self-realization that while change is inevitable, we still refuse to contemplate what the change we bring about means to other beings around us.