My evening walk is usually a brisk trot down this sun-dappled, leafy, quiet road.
It is flanked by pine and oak trees and the Himalayan ranges pop up in the gaps between the branches.
I meet groups of school kids chatting their way home, people returning to their villages, and orphaned bulls being chased by attentive army guards. Birds chirp, flowers bloom and the fresh mountain air makes the evening a special time of the day.
This month, there are new sounds and sights on the quiet road. Sounds of trees being chopped, trees crashing to the forest floor, barks and branches being lopped off. New sightings of blue skies and thinning jungle foliage, stacks of logs and branches, piles of Internet high-speed cables, dug out trenches on the road-side.
The new order is coming to our quiet hamlet. High speed Internet connections and data, 3G mobiles with school children, and a large army housing colony on the hilltop…The forest is being felled for the colony, the roads are being dug up for Net smart India, and the kids are being prepared for an online life.
In the process, the old chirping, flowering forest will go. The gangs of singing and chattering kids will be replaced by mobile-staring and using students, engrossed in their bright screens, or the latest music app. The wandering fauna ( dogs, bulls, leopards, jackals) will be replaced by the wandering crowd of humanity.
But there will be a different shade to the wandering crowd of humanity which will float around the now-disappearing forest and now-visible hill slopes. There will be happy children and their mothers, glad to get the man-of-the-house at home, savouring a brief period of being a complete family before the Army man goes back to the front lines. I will hear soldiers morphing into doting fathers after they complete their daily rigorous schedule of PT, parade, work, games and other hectic tasks. Shouts and laughter will float across the evening mountain air, as friends and families go for walks and talks together.
The forest is being cleared to build homes for the families of Army men, who get a chance to bring their families to join them after years of living alone in field areas. Till date, the number of houses are not sufficient for even a third of the regiment men, and I listen to unhappy soldier stories of missing out on family times, whenever someone takes a lift to the town.
Much as I will miss the flower carpeted, sun-dappled, bird-song-filled forest of my evening walks, I choose to focus on the joy and happiness the vanishing forest will be providing. The skyline may change, the pine tips may be interspersed with satellite dishes, the quiet of the forest may be replaced by laughter and happy gossip, but there will be families living their life here.
A far cry from those designer colonies which continue to pop up on the Kumaon slopes. Exquisite cottages, manicured gardens and care-takers wandering around locked villas for 9 months of the year.A few weeks of summer guests, a few evenings of drinking wine and watching summer fires in the distant hills, some parties with gourmet food, and then…its back to being ghost colonies, with one or two permanent residents.
My blog post would have been radically different, if the forest was going to another builder of cottages. No, wait..I might have had no time to write…. I would have been starting an anti-building movement!!