“Just one tiny virus is enough to bring the whole human world down to its knees!”

It’s time we respected nature before it is too late to pull back from the catastrophic results of our greed and parasitic behaviour. It shocks and saddens me to no end to see people chop down trees

Swagata Shrivastava
| Updated: Last updated on June 10th, 2020,

Do you know the taste of chilling cold, the smell of sunshine, the feel of clean crisp air, the sound of a valley full of wildflowers … deepest satisfaction and pure joy!

As an avid traveller, I have always looked for places that have been humanely untouched. A pristine dense pine forest, or an under-frequented rapid, or a thousand magical places that have not been maligned by the human presence that we are blessed to have been surrounded by. 

Since the time I started making memories, I remember being drawn to uninhabited landscapes. A lot of my childhood memories are that of playing under tree shade, getting awed by peacock feathers, the trickling sound of flowing water, the beautiful sight of gardens full of flowers. Of all the memories I gathered growing up, I mostly associate feelings of security, joy, freedom, curiosity, discovery, introspection and happiness with the ones that I spent surrounded by nature. 

Awed by stories of adventure that I heard from my father, an avid trekker and mountaineer, and mother, a woman with a green thumb, my fascination and pull to the mountains and forests grew to a point where at 16, I decided to make a trip to the Himalayas with a group of trekkers for the first time. That trip was life-changing in many ways for me.

Apart from tasting the experience of adulthood, I was rewarded with the most beautiful sights and experiences of my life. The programme required us to walk up to a campsite situated around two kms away from the road, with luggage on our backs for a four-day stay in tents pitched in the vast open meadow. Our city- bred, unprepared bodies screamed in protest with the rigour of climbing up the steep gravelly, undefined mountain path through a forest, while the locals ran past us comfortably up and down.

It made us respect the sheer amount of physical effort that goes into surviving into these regions. To me, the sight was enough to help go on. We camped in a meadow, high in the mountains, surrounded by dense pine forests, next to a glacial stream that became our drinking water source, had our food cooked on firewood collected by us from the forests, an ice patch at a distance that was our playground and a vast, vast sky that changed its colours every few seconds. Marvellous! Till today, when I smell firewood smoke, hit with nostalgia, I instantly get transported to that campsite and get drenched in an avalanche of sights, smells and memories. Nothing … I repeat … nothing in the whole wide world can beat the sight of clear, cloudless, cold night sky high in the mountains, filled with millions of twinkling stars. The most beautiful blanket in the world.

I felt one with nature, was deeply humbled by the enormity of the beauty, the power of nature and natural events. Many such treks followed, each leaving a deeper impact and immense love and yearning for natural landscapes in me. 

Gushing rains, the smell of first rain, the symphony of crickets, the crackle of lightning, the rustling of trees, the merriment of birds, the gorgeous array of colours … as a design professional, I think, there is no better inspiration, nothing that goes off-key in nature, and there is no better designer. No better architect. In every form of art, be it painting, poetry, stories, woven in every cultural narrative, inspiring all scientific discoveries, forms and shapes … nature is, so we are.

These experiences are my drug that I regularly go back to. My entire year is planned around these one or two trips, away from the concrete ugliness, mechanical sounds, unhealthy air and the constant rush to reach somewhere, do something. This is my reset mechanism. 

A lot of exposure to natural surroundings since childhood, discourse by parents on the importance of natural systems, sensitivity to co-habitants of our planet — the birds, animals and trees, equal right for all the living beings to share resources and space with and encouragement to experience nature in its raw form, out of the cocoon of comfort and luxury is how we have lived. It has helped me discover my strengths, humbled me down as a person, sharpened my senses as a professional and has helped develop an innate resonance with surroundings that we all are born with, but in the course of growing up loose due to constant exposure to the artificial world we have created for ourselves. 

It shocks and saddens me to no end to see people chop down trees, murder animals, level a forest and erect concrete monstrosities, call it “development” without feeling any remorse at all. I always ask … shouldn’t we feel like a part of that forest? Shouldn’t it feel like home? Shouldn’t our protective instincts come forth? How can we bring our own home down? Isn’t our behaviour suicidal, against our own well-being?

Having experienced nature in its most benign, benevolent form, and it’s harsh forms, all I can say is that we, humans, can behave all we want like that bully, destructive person on the street that destroys everything to his whims and fancies and feels all important, all invincible, and test nature’s patience, till it decides to retaliate back … for it is the most powerful force we know. 

Just one invisible non-living speck of protein, a virus, is enough to bring the whole human world down to its knees! I am sure all other species would have sighed with relief! 

It’s time we respected that force … for our own existence and survival … before it is too late to pull back from the catastrophic results of our greed, apathy and parasitic behaviour … and thank our lucky stars for being blessed to get a chance to experience the endless natural beauty we are surrounded with.  

With hope for a greener — literally and figuratively, sensitive, kinder, healthier future — a very happy Environment Day.

Swagata Shrivastava is an Associate senior faculty, and head, ceramic and glass department, at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.