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Green Havens


Bill Aitken

LISTEN TO THE MOUNTAINS: A HIMALAYAN  JOURNAL
By Pamela Chatterjee
Viking/Penguin, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 174, Rs. 295.00

BETWEEN THE EARTH AND SKY: THE PENGUIN BOOK OF FOREST WRITINGS
Edited by Savyasaachi
Penguin, Delhi, 2005, pp. 258, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 1-2 January-February 2006

Both books under review  share the  immediate appeal of  describing sylvan situations far from the polluted  air of industrialized life.  One is the  journal of a migrant city dweller who finds fulfillment living in a hill village, the other  an anthology of forest related writing  that  probes  the mystique of trees and wild places. Missing  from both (fortunately)  is  the traditional  flagellant postures  that tend to be associated with the Back to Nature movement, implying that  the development of civilized society has been a falling away  from  a Garden of Eden ideal. However,  the quest to regain a  lost paradise  is only part of  our  striving. Just as real is the  dim biological  recall  of  our ancestral hominids  who fled wild animals by resorting to tree climbing.  Anything arboreal  to the modern psyche  is a source of comfort—but only in theory. In  practice even the most luxurious of five star tree-huts  will prove  disconcerting once the novelty wears off.  Forests  and  wilderness areas are OK for short stints but in the long term they are better read about  in the pulped state than experienced in the raw.  Which  tourist brochure  ever owns up to  the existence  of  mosquitoes and  leeches avidly waiting to suck the visitors’ blood in God‘s Own Country?   Life  away from the urban jungle can be  a punishing alternative for the city  dweller unless he or she is both physically and mentally tough. Anyone who has met  in a Delhi drawing room any of the remarkable “Bhagat girls” knows they don’t  come tougher and more enterprising than this. Years ago when I wrote about a seriously life threatening trek I had a letter from Pamela Chatterjee (nee Bhagat)  asking for  further details. Her adventurous decision (after educating her daughters)to move from Bombay to the Kumaon village of Kausani  sounded  promisingly  pragmatic.  She was not going as one more do-gooder but as a genuine student of  life in the mountains. As a senior citizen her interventions are subtle but all the more effective for that. A word to the irrigation engineer and  the water begins to flow. A complaint  in high places against an official who sells seeds at an inflated price leads to an initial bluster at the local level followed by a correction in the rates.   To be a  woman in  village Kumaon  entails an unrelenting round of drudgery. Extraordinarily even in ...


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