A wonderful life


Should one don an attitude of cheerful optimism or of utter despair when contemplating the Indian wildlife scene? Perhaps optimism, tinged by realism is the right way to go.

I used to laugh at prophets of doom. And for as long as I can remember, I have abhorred self-righteous, sanctimonious preachers with intensity. By and large I managed to ignore such people. Which is why my optimism and purpose are still intact after decades of battling the dragons of despair!

But imagine my dismay upon waking one morning to discover that I had almost metamorphosed into the creature I loathed. Even though I never saw myself in the image, most people believed I was indeed the quintessential prophet of doom. I realise now that my near Jekyll and Hyde transmutation came about insidiously, like a winter’s dawn, a consequence of years of tramping the murky corridors of environmental reporting.

“Life”, I was gently reminded by an unsympathetic wife over breakfast one New Year’s Day, “ is what happens to you while you are making other plans.”

Where, I wondered was the life-loving, affable wildlifer I had started out as? And would I ever be able to turn the doomsday merchant from my inner door?

I have been reading, writing and editing reports about global and Indian environmental concerns for over a decade now. I studiously ignored those who, in the mid-seventies, predicted ruin and mayhem, preferring to focus on the more positive aspect of nature conservation, the magic of plant animal relationships, the exhilaration of watching that arch predator, the tiger bring down its prey, or the mesmeric precision of a spider spinning its deadly web.

Cocooned in my own world of discovery, I rationalised my priorities by believing that appreciation is a precursor to concern. Why, after all, would anyone mourn the loss of rain forests, rivers and mountain slopes if the value of these life support systems were unknown to them?

People responded emotionally and warmed to my worldview. Without the benefit of any outside finance (not even a bank loan!) I launched Sanctuary, a magazine devoted entirely to the proposition that wild India was worth saving.

But `realists’ (read politicians, contractors and economists) look upon the wilderness – forests, wetlands, corals, mountains and rivers – as little more than untapped resources. In their view, people like us were locking up resource islands (like the national park in Borivli) that were crucial to development. There were jobs to create, food to grow and progress to usher in. And if some forests had to be sacrificed, so be it.

I am happy to report that the affable wildlifer is alive and well. He was rescued some years ago, when the realisation struck him that he was not responsible for every leaf that stirred, or every river that was poisoned. But every once in a while, this cheerful facet of his personality is dented, darkened and tested by those who would build golf courses in mangroves where flamingos feed; chemical ports on beaches where sea turtles nest, and mines that excavate the future of the tiger even faster than the minerals they want to turn to cash.


Bittu Sahgal

Editor, Sanctuary magazine