One would imagine that for those of us who live in cities, the opportunity to experience the joys of Nature on an everyday basis is pretty limited.
As a youngster growing up in remotely situated bungalows with huge gardens and their accompanying “wild life”, I had witnessed the thrills and chills of close encounters with Mother Nature, so my idea of a pleasant retired life involved a neat little apartment, with all the greens and blues and brilliance of Nature’s palette limited to the stark, clear walls around me.
Fortunately, the partner of my choice was not against these choices and we therefore wound up acquiring just such an apartment in a gated society. The tiny apartment drew some laughs — and scorn — when the rest of the family inspected it.
All we had to do was get down from our “safe” little apartment and wander around our gated society, and we had every shade of colour around us with neem, peepul, banyan, gul mohar, wild almond, mango, bamboo, laburnum, jacaranda, ixora, allamanda, luxuriant bougainvillea
“You hardly enter through the front door and you find yourself at the back door!” someone said. “It’s like being cooped up in a cage,” said another. “Give me fields and farms and forests for adventure and a chance to breathe!”
“Well,” I snapped back, “when you’re struggling to keep the fields and the forests and the wild life out of your living space, I would have polished my floors and put away my few possessions and I’ll be relaxing and having a good time!”
And so I did, getting my “fix” of adventure second hand from family and friends whose idea of a good time differed from mine, who couldn’t imagine themselves “caged” the way we were …
Thus, we enjoyed their tales of lost animals landing up at their farmhouse door in search of shelter — and panthers prowling around the chicken coops, rabbit warrens, goat pens and dog kennels in search of food.
Panther's pug marks
We looked with fascinated intensity at the photographs they sent of a panther’s pug marks in the mud and of stranded eagles and wandering cobras and Russell’s vipers with beautiful markings to distinguish them and then we quickly glanced around our flooring to check for unwelcome signs of even an ant!
We were enthralled when we spoke to friends who had settled a hop, skip and jump away from the seashore and we revelled at the roar of the waves that could be heard through the sensitive phone at our ears. “What a place to live,” we marvelled, enjoying their description of how, in calm weather, they sometimes threw a net into the sea from a rock and collected their requirements for lunch!
But then we heard about the other accompaniments of their everyday life: The fury of the monsoon winds that sometimes smashed window shutters, felled trees, blew off the top of a shed, or led to electric lines snapping. Of course, they took it in their stride when they had to repair windows, re-fashion the top of a shed, or light up the darkness with a candle or a torch.
For them, life was an unending series of adventures that kept them going, especially in these times of confinement due to the pandemic. By contrast, ours seemed a bland and colourless existence.
But wait a minute!
We had forgotten something!
For just a hop, skip and jump away from us, too, was Nature at its best: All we had to do was get down from our “safe” little apartment and wander around our gated society, and we had every shade of colour around us with neem, peepul, banyan, gul mohar, wild almond, mango, bamboo, laburnum, jacaranda, ixora, allamanda, luxuriant bougainvillea, pigeons, koels, and best of all, peacocks flying from trees to walls to housetops, then unfurling their spectacularly feathered tails as they danced for their prospective mates.
Add a couple of friendly house pets, a few encounters with unfriendly strays, and other walkers — and we have almost daily adventures of our own!
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.