The Distress of Our Planet
"Author? Phew!!" I had sniggered at my wife, Reetha, while smearing home-made butter on toast at the breakfast table.
"Ornithologist? Tchha!!" pat had come the retaliation from Reetha, who's not one to take things lying down.
If not a routine, this is a ritual often observed by us since fifteen years of our conjugal life in quest of adding a bit of 'salt'
to a hitherto quiet relationship. The only difference, this time, is the venue of our confrontation has shifted from Auckland to
Itanagar, my in-laws' place, in India. We are on a vacation to India. Although generally fond of my in-laws, my attraction to this
north-western state of India remains the great hornbills, the majestic state bird of Arunachal Pradesh. Reetha remains in her own
domain of romanticism and imagination. She calls her genre of books 'psychic-romanticism'; such an odd thing! Yet she sells. Well,
on her part, she does not give a damn to Ornithology; often, unfortunately, labelling me a 'bird-watcher'!
Yesterday I was concerned to see Duke, our fourteen-year-old, moving around with an encaged squirrel; about the same time we were
exchanging the 'author-ornithologist' pleasantries. Cruelty to animals has always been a source of concern to me. I freed the poor
animal immediately and decided to take Duke along in my trip to Eaglenest Sanctuary. So we are here after a pretty long journey that
started early in the morning. Reetha has decided to stay back with her mom; you know how the things are with wives' moms.
My tag of Professor with the Auckland University has helped. The authorities have allowed me and Duke to move about a little more
freely in the depth of forest; albeit with Luka, the guide, on our trail. We are here for about four hours. It has been an exciting
time thus far. We have come across a variety of local fauna including elephants, macaque, and gaur. Even we have spotted a solitary
red panda, much to the delight of Duke. And birds? Some exotic varieties like the black stork, pheasants, and white-headed-ibis we
have been able to spot. We have had our lunch a little while back sharing it with Luka. There we have developed a liking for Luka.
He has the similar passion for jungle as that of mine. We have discussed things like dwindling natural habitats of animals and
birds, the unabashed greed of human beings and how they spring on self-sabotaging sprees destroying their own species; let aside
other animals and birds.
"Even today I read 'bout the mayhem at Nice in France. What a 'nice' thing to happen at a place called Nice," Luka had smiled wryly.
"The poor guys went to enjoy a firework . . . " Luka's voice had choked.
"Sorry, captivating that squirrel, dad," Duke had squeezed my hand. One never knows when the right chord is struck in a person!
Thuk . . . thuk . . . thukk. There comes the distinct sound of axe chopping tree not far from us. An ominous sound of illegal
felling of trees! Luka gets busy with his wireless set informing the authorities. It is at this point I hear the screech----- it is,
if I am not mistaken, that of a great hornbill! I feel a delightful thud in my heart. So far I have failed to spot this state bird.
I knew they are an endangered species and was afraid I would not be able to capture one in my camera. But the screech is that of a
scare! I gesture Duke to tiptoe ahead along the chirp.
We do not have to move far. There is the unmistakable sight of the majestic hornbill flapping its wings around a tree-hollow, its
nest, and screeching nervously. I can tell that it is an adult male, by its beak and size. It is terrified of the tree-felling
around. I remember horridly how I came out of our Auckland-residence one night during an earthquake while Reetha and Duke were
asleep. I kept flapping around my house with similar haplessness until the quake subsided. I empathise with the bird.
The chopping sound continues, and a tree grounds with a crash; fluttering of the hornbill increases manifold. I take my snaps. Duke
keeps gazing at the nervous bird. I remain absorbed in my own world meanwhile. It is not a question of this particular bird or any
species. Actually our planet is undergoing a great spell of distress. It is not meant to bear the steel and concrete structures, it
is not meant to be dug and be devoid of its minerals, it is not meant to be deforested and it is neither meant to be polluted the
way it is by manmade inventions. Our dear earth has a fever; its temperature is increasing every passing day. The revenge taken by
the earth is also evident. Water sources are depleting, natural calamities are on the increase, human beings are destroying each
other with their innovative weapons, and diseases due to their own inventions are on the rise. It needs a Herculean effort, a
collective goodwill on our part to clear the backlog. Let there be a unified message of peace and brotherhood across the World to
stop violence, stop being greedy. We must work in unison; united only we stand.
"Dad! Can't we save the bird?" Duke puts up his childish query.
"I can't, you can't, but collectively we can. Maybe it'll take years of effort."
"I'll make sure that we can, you'll see in the days to come." There is a glitter in his eyes.
I am not sure what Duke is going to make; an ornithologist, or a writer. But one thing I am assured of; he is going to be a good