" Trees are Earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven." ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Surprise! - Bittu Sahgal

Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary and Cub magazines asks "Why must the simple joys of life be such rare gifts? Where is the gentleness, the sense of community, the search for inner peace, which should routinely be a part of every child's ethos?"

How does such a small insect protect itself in such a big jungle?" a young voice asked when last I took members of the Cub Club out to Borivli. "When the rain falls, won't these ants all drown?" asked another. "How do the ants talk to each other?" piped a third.

The answers, involving chemistry, biology and philosophy, were patiently provided by volunteer naturalists who were accompanying us. And with every response I could see young minds clicking, evaluating and digesting information. I also saw how quizzical looks changed to a combination of elation and surprise. Often, even the experts found themselves stumped for satisfactory explanations and I knew they would later spend hours in search of answers in the library, or from other naturalists.

Such is the process of learning which has crafted science itself. It would be safe to say that surprise has been the cornerstone of human evolution. Over the past centuries most of our discoveries have resulted from surprise.

Beautiful Beasts
Paradise in the Wild
The Ocean:Conquest
A Source of Solace
Sighting the Ocean
The Ocean in Verse
Childhood Dream
Hunt for Indian Tiger

Adventure activities
Rock Climbing
Scuba Diving

Leisure Holidays
Wild Life

Fire, electricity, magnetism, gravity, all were discovered by chance, as was most of our knowledge of medicine. And all such nuggets of information were grasped by active minds, conditioned by humility into believing that there were indeed new lessons to be learned from nature. Given this truth, I wonder at the ignorance and arrogance of powerful economists, politicians and bureaucrats who operate from the wholly erroneous belief that they `know it all'. Such people hold sway over our lives and the Indian people require to be protected from them. Frankly, if I had a choice, I would gather the lot, find a humane way to keep their mouths shut, their eyes and ears open and then incarcerate them for two years in the company of curious children.


Recently, once again, I spent an absorbing three hours together with some of Bombay's most vibrant and sensitive children. Intelligent, curious and eager to learn, they took time out to wake before dawn and make their way to Bombay's incredible Borivli forest. Here, in the midst of spiders, monkeys, birds and newly emerged larvae, they learned of the earth, of interrelationships and about themselves. In the process, from what I could judge, they seemed to have had an absolutely wonderful time... free from the clutter, clamour and aggressiveness of regular life. Watching them I could not help but wonder at the manner in which we are moulding our children. Condemned to grey classrooms, monotonous lessons and artificial competition to score higher marks than others, we are stealing exultation from them in the very best years of their lives. Why must the simple joys of life be such rare gifts? Where is the gentleness, the sense of community, the search for inner peace, which should routinely be a part of every child's ethos?

For years now, some of us have used the Borivli forest as a natural university in which to complete our own education and to share, with as many young persons we can, a value system which post-independence India seems to have abandoned. Apart from the beauty and magic of nature, we try to convey to our wards the forest's usefulness to humans -- particularly the citizens of Bombay -- and its fascinating science. Using the forest as our theme, we also try to instill in young people a love for India and a changed attitude towards patriotism. It is not enough, for instance, to be willing to stand up to outside threats to our country, if we sit idly by while turncoat Ieaders destroy our rivers, soils and forests.

I was a child in Nehru's India. No one ever suggested to me that cutting forests would destroy our country. That shooting tigers was anything but an act of bravery. At the age of 12 years, as I stood over the massive Bhakra Dam, my heart pounded with a mixture of fear and reverence. Circumstances have changed. I have no doubt whatsoever that if Nehru were alive, he would have rewritten his manifesto for the country and the children he loved. In my darker moments, I also feel that Gandhi was wasted on India's independence movement. His life and his lessons would have been so much more purposeful if he were with us today to deliver the world from its self-inflicted environmental war. Both these leaders, like the children I accompanied to Borivli, celebrated and learned from surprises and then adjusted to them. Not so the grey monoliths running India who refuse to see the environmental writing on our walls.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.