“Where are the pines that lined this stretch of the road?” I queried restively from Prakash, about ten metres short of my favourite tea stall.
I was travelling from Chandigarh to Shimla to attend a conference on ‘Climate Change’. Prakash was the taxi driver I knew for some time. The towering sentinels that balustraded the right side of the road were conspicuous by their absence, unsettling the environmentalist in me. I told Prakash to slow down and peered out of the window.
“Where is that dhaba?” I asked further trying to recollect the name. Before Prakash uttered a word, I was rattled to see scores of bloodless clumps of once tall and regal deodars and the ruins of the stall on the foothill.
“Oh, that ‘Giani Da Dhaba’? Madam, it was bulldozed six months ago by the authorities to acquire land for the smooth flow of traffic,” he answered with a sigh. The deodars that nestled the ‘dhaba’ also became a casualty. And those pines……
Cutting him short, I asked apprehensively, “Have they got uprooted by some calamity?”
Prakash, a native of Shimla, was a keen nature enthusiast. Sensing my anguish and the hazard of a conversation while driving, he proposed to pull up and talk over a cup of tea. I agreed, thinking I might get some valuable inputs from a local for my conference.
Picking up the thread of conversation, he spoke woefully, “Madam, those pines have been felled. Looking at the ever increasing tourist flow, the roads are being widened to accommodate burgeoning traffic. They did not bother about the vanishing greens in this once pristine region”.
“Didn’t the locals protest? How could they accept the swapping of natural wealth with carpets of concrete in the name of convenience?” My hurt was getting more painful.
“We all did protest but we couldn’t stand up to the corridors of power,” said Prakash disappointedly.
“But this has a direct bearing on your lives!”
“Yes, it has. The hills are reeling under acute shortage of water. Those natural waterfalls are fast drying up. Life is getting tougher. The crop patterns are also changing. The mountains are being blasted and plundered in the name of development. But who cares? The policymakers are digging our graves, madam. I sorely miss the whistling wind and whiffs of cool breeze while driving on this stretch now,” lamented Prakash. His frustration and anguish were unmissable.
The journey resumed after this brief interaction. But during the rest of my travel, I kept wondering at this exorbitantly expensive bargain–swapping fragile ecosystem with human insanity; swapping miles upon miles of sylvan stretches-callously, recklessly, dangerously-with swathes of black asphalt for humanity in hurry. All the talk about ‘Climate Change’ seemed farcical.
The chain of my thoughts was broken when the taxi came to a halt at my destination. After exchanging pleasantries, Prakash left saying, “Ok madam, enjoy fresh, filtered air in this fully air-conditioned hotel, the best property in the Queen of Hills.
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