The universe is made up of not only atoms but also stories. So when I was asked to write for the Climate Change issue of Fundamatics, I knew I would have to write our story, about our small bit of the universe, which would then become a small cog in our small bit of the universe.
Some years ago, we had a visitor, who asked us how we had managed to acquire Forest land. Had we just squatted on it? Or had we managed to acquire a patta of some sort?
It took us a while to convince him that the forest came after we did. And we realised that we ourselves hadn’t seen the wood for the trees.
When Sonati and I moved here 20 years ago with a two-and-a-half-year-old Badri Baba, it was to grow our children up away from the city.
The land was chosen (by both of us independently) almost whimsically: “What a lovely view!”
The land was on a hill, grazed to death; and all the trees hacked for firewood. Where would the water come from? Didn’t daunt us.
Recklessnes? Youthful energy? Perhaps both; perhaps.
There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.
Otherwise, given the difficulties with water, the barrenness, the rockiness, no-one may have bought this piece of land.
The House in 2000
And since we did, the land has now become green, and treed-up. Various birds have moved in which we never saw here earlier.
The House in 2020
We have seen slender lorises (we hear them oftener than we see them), and a family of mongooses. (And Varun Baba, too moved in!)
I seem to have moved to the end of the story so far, skipping over various intermediate stories. But that is just like a story; it takes on a life of its own.
Much like our land, which too seems to have a mind of its own.
We tried so many things: We grew rice (rainfed), ragi (rainfed), dal (rainfed), til for oil (rainfed). The trouble was that our neighbours had started growing cash crops (tapioca: Salem is the tapioca capital of the world). The upshot: All the rats grazed on our tastier crops, and would leave the husk for us to estimate how much they had eaten. To add insult to injury, after we harvested our crops, the rats would start eating tapioca for want of anything else: And our neighbours would say, “Saar, your rats have come to our fields”
When the rats were consuming 80% of our crop before we could harvest it.
We had to give up growing rat food.
Then we planted out trees: fruit trees, flowering trees, timber trees; and of course, the native trees which grew back from hacked stumps, since we stopped people grazing and collecting firewood on our land.
Our trees were also all rainfed: we had to plant at the right time and pray. We used to get two monsoons (July to September is the short-rainy season, October-November is the long-rainy season) and also some January rains and some April rains, so we didn’t have to pray too much.
In the last four years, the rains have been pathetic. Not a drop of rain from end of November to the following July. And the monsoons too giving half our normal rainfall.
So we can say categorically that no tree amongst the thousands of our standing trees has been planted between 2015 to 2019. Not one of those survived.
To take that a bit further, we need to say that growing trees needs help from the universe. Had we arrived here 15 years later than we did, we may have thought that this hillside was a dead loss. And a small bit of the universe would have stayed barren.
This may seem anecdotal evidence for climate change. But now there are plenty of such stories, kilo-anecdotes if you will. We need to make the connections and alter our behaviour. After all, if a Pangolin’s sneeze can grind the whole (human) world to a halt, the universe is capable of taking corrective action with or without our help. Perhaps one of our favourite poems from Wendell Berry will sum it up:
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.