This Dehradun where I am currently living my rather tranquil retired life is nothing like what it used to be just a couple of decades ago. I still fondly remember my hours long stroll on the winding roads bordered by dense Sal trees. Even the most wretched summer afternoons would mellow down to cool and breezy evenings. I would routinely step out around dusk and walk for kilometres to sometimes buy the crunchiest peanuts in town from a local vendor. One such evening as I stood popping few hot nuts in my mouth while chatting with the peanut seller, some really mellifluous notes on the flute caught my attention. I saw a blind old man, stooped with age standing under a huge litchi tree, totally engrossed in playing the flute. There was an unusual intensity in his music which was quite mesmerising. Few passers by just placed coins near him but that man did not seem interested in taking any cognisance of the money being offered to him.
Years breezed past and each day as I went through the same street I noticed that man playing on his flute whole heartedly. On a few occasions I saw him gathering litchis which would drop down from the large tree above him. What was particularly incredible was the sheer dexterity with which he would cross the street, as if he could visualise things with his walking stick. He never seemed bothered to look around for anyone’s assistance either. Fortunately in those days Dehradun was not so heavily populated with people or vehicles. Eventually that spot came to known by his name. It wasn’t a surprise anymore when an auto or cab driver would casually ask, “the same lane where a man plays flute, right?”
Things have changed drastically with passing years. Today I feel pretty adventurous whenever I venture out to take a stroll down the same streets. Being able to find enough space to walk comfortably is no cake walk. Many a times I choose to blunt down my auditory ability with cotton plugs to avoid getting overwhelmed by perpetual honking of vehicles. The narrow footpaths are half swallowed by hawkers or kiosks and the remaining are clambered by vehicles.
Not only is the receding of forested land tangible but even the widest roads have become really crammed with innumerable cars whizzing across. The city has indeed come a long way from being a vacationer’s paradise to becoming an overcrowded, over urbanised and commercialised hub. Areas like Sahastradhara, Rajpur extension and Tapkeshwar were once green escapes from the main city. Clean water streams and dense trees here, were more than a just a tourist attraction. They had a huge influence in moderating the climate of the city. For stretches altogether mango and litchi orchards ran across the city. However to the sorrow of an old timer now is that these localities boast of snazzy supermarkets or residential complexes. Where once it was easy to spot hares, migratory birds and monkeys, now what meets the eyes is recklessly discarded plastic and other waste. Not only has the tree population been compromised in the name of a sudden urbanisation but also the community has grossly failed to treat the remaining natural habitats with basic care and hygiene. Instead of a systematic and eco friendly urbanisation model, a haphazard growth of buildings has taken place in a small town. Parade Ground which is an old legacy of Dehradun is being utilised for either trade exhibitions, car parking or political events and gatherings. Frequently food hawkers are seen lined up there as well. What is left behind is an eroded and dug up ground with food waste and litter all over. There has been no effort on the part of the Government to maintain the ground aesthetically by planting trees on the its borders or laying grass in it. Only few dust laden and creaky eucalyptus trees can be spotted on some patches of the ground’s edge. It could have been developed as the green lung of the city as a restorative effort in the face of massive deforestation that has taken place since Dehradun became the state capital in 2000. The commercial and political events which are held here should be organised systematically in an area identified outside the main city areas. Interdepartmental measures should be taken wherein it should be the responsibility of all Government departments to ensure routine cleaning and maintenance of the ground. Other social groups and citizens should also assume the responsibility of keeping the place clean.
The recent decision of municipal corporation of yielding their land in forty new wards for commercial constructions like complexes and shops is again a major threat to the remaining open spaces and greenery in the city.
It was really heartening to see residents of Doon come forward to save old trees the previous year against the government plan to chop them off for road expansion. The sinister effect of this ecological compromise is being felt by all in the shape of unprecedented hot summers, declining annual rainfall and pollution. However without a balanced effort on the part of both residents as well as the government, efforts to save our ossifying city might not be fruitful enough.
Last year I happened to pass by the same street, which anybody would recognise by that old blind flautist. There was not even a litchi tree in sight let alone that man. For a second I thought I was in a wrong place until that peanut seller appeared. I asked him casually about that old flautist. He shook his head and told me in a lamenting tone, “Sir earlier he could easily cross the streets as you see many cars were not on the road. Now it’s different. All the shops and a new college building have been built here. Cars and two wheelers speed by all day and then one day as that old man was struggling to walk across, he was hit by a rash taxi.” My heart sprang inside at once. It was a really strange yet intense feeling of sadness. Somewhat metaphoric of how at this pace, one day all canopy and living beings will gradually disappear, leaving an entirely concrete earth behind.
(The author is a retired civil servant)
Monday, 18 March 2019 | Neeraj Kumar Pande | Dehraudn
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