Underscoring the truth that nature will only be nurtured if ordinary people love, understand and respect it, Bittu Sahgal drums up a smattering of memories of days spent in kinship with wild nature. It is such experiences he believes that we need to expose young India to if we wish them to grow up with a sense of appreciation for the exquisite natural heritage with which the Indian subcontinent is blessed. This vital national objective can be achieved by tourism, provided policymakers enable young Indians to experience nature as they deserve to… the way he did when he fell in love and dedicated his life to nature decades ago.
KANYAKUMARI, TAMIL NADU, NOVEMBER 5, 1999
I peeled away from my friends to stand at the very tip of the Indian peninsula. At my feet were golden sands and ahead of me for as far as the eye could see was a blue, blue sea. There were gulls flying all over, and sandpipers jabbing for crabs on the beach, but for all practical purposes I was the only human on Earth.
What a place! What a feeling! I shut my eyes and imagined diving deep into the ocean to gaze at the wonderland that few humans even know existed below those pure waters. Whale sharks migrating between Kutchh and Australia. Sharks doing what sharks do… swim constantly to pump oxygen through their cartilaginous bodies. Dolphins, sending out whistles that no human can hear, through waters that held fish so plentiful that they have fed and sustained human civilisations for tens of thousands of years.
The sun fell below the horizon much faster than I expected and I found myself taking in lungsful of air, reminding myself to savour every breath in celebration of a life I sometimes pinch myself to believe is more than a fairy tale.
My solo reverie was broken by a hearty laugh from Dr. V.S. Vijayan, standing just 20 paces behind me with Dr. Robert Grubh and the late S.A. Hussain, all three naturalists extraordinaire. The subject of their conversation, not surprisingly, was Dr. Sálim Ali and the twinkle in his eye when he saw a pretty woman! They laughed even louder when I recalled my very...