December, when winter gathers clouds and smog to blanket the horizon in vengeance. On an unusual sunny morning of it, I was creeping over a colonial era iron-built bridge under which the Chenab River flows, near my hometown Chiniot. Half my way on the bridge, a big swarm of small honeybees appeared before me. It was as I was within immediate access of the swarm to get stung. I muffled my head and face with the jacket that I was having folded on my fore-arm, and started retreating in a haste. The swarm had gone, when I peeped back a few moments later. The innate love [that we have] for nature made me repent that why I missed the chance to enjoy the meditative buzz of the bees choreographing in the air.
The Chenab River, best known for its silver waters that "flow for the lovers". It emits the cascades of invisible energy creating an aura of romance, which make it iconic in Punjabi classic literature and folklore, Mushtaq Soofi writes. It originates in Himachal Pradesh, India, beating its course down the highlands of Himalaya, then enters the alluvial plains of Punjab, Pakistan. Winding its way further down it passes near the ancient town of Chiniot, some 158 km northwest from Lahore. When it reaches Chiniot, a series of small hills stretch perpendicularly to its shores, and a few knots of the hills that impede the river's course part it into two prongs of a fork. Each prong unites again with the other after slithering on sands under its relative bridge.
I was walking on the sand of riverbed after reaching down the bridge. Sunbaked silt cakes of various shapes and sizes, which the river had embroidered there, were breaking with creaking sound under my fleets. There, a humming sound, coming from the colossal wires stretched across the colossal electric pylons, was disquieting the silence. Crossing through the riverbed, I reached the western bank, where small drops of a blue chemical were defusing into tube-well water to feed potato crop standing there as a surrogate of riverine forest.
On this bank, once where the wind had kissed every blade of wild grass, the same wind was now wavering potato leaves. I caught a flashback of some near and distant past: when the technology had not spun its wheel too fast; when the life in the East of Eden or on the shores of the Don or along the Chenab River was simple and pulsating with the same rhythm; when the agriculture had not landed its boots on the rivers' banks to reclaim the land that was meant for the wild life.
These flashback memories of the riverain or bela forest started reeling in my mind, in a theatrical way, and images of that were seating themselves one by one. It was as bela forest had been reincarnated before me. The imagery of the past was in a kind of reenactment. Birds clad in feathers of various colors making a part of sonnet in the sky were alighting on the blossomed twigs of trees. The wolf, a villainous figure of fairy tales, with a serene gaze on its prey had made its steel claws open from its paws. The thud of its paw on the earth [apparently inaudible] had alerted all the animals of inferior makeup: the porcupine sensing the danger, with its clattering teeth, had made its sharp pointy quills erected to protect herself; the hare with its springy legs had hopped out to escape the danger and was chanced to meet the tortoise where he set his famous bet to race with him that tortoise won with his steadiness. Everything, plants and animals in the river and on its shores, once they domiciled there and formed an ecosystem in a unison.
When those theatrical visualization of the past reeled further, I saw the lands, potato and pea crops had taken the possession of that, once it were meadows where the herdsmen had shuttled their cattle to and from whirling the clouds of mist after them. That reel of visualization also brought some disturbing images... I saw the villagers venturing themselves in the name of a game. The game was to kill wild-pigs purposelessly. In that game groups of villagers haunted the wild-pigs beating canisters of tin as drum. If a pig was chanced to appear from somewhere, the unleashed hounds waylaid it and within no time the clubs, axes and lances, with which villagers were armed, were lodged into it, spurting blood all around. After this, it was left abandoned to the scavengers, vultures, ravens and dogs. The reckoning of this terrific memory shook me to the spine, and I traipsed down.
Coming down the western bank, I saw a gull playing with a plastic bottle floating on a small patch of water. Once, many gulls were seen there diving onto the river's surface. Gulls' flight over the river was a mix of "triumph and failure"; sometimes they returned with their beaks filled with a catch of a small fish and sometimes it was a failed attempt. I don't know now where they had gone. It seemed as if the gull was diving on plastic, with its survival instinct, had sensed the danger and was rehearsing to sharpen its adaptive skill to coexist with plastic bottles and polythene bags.
I moved further leaving the gull behind, sharpening its adaptive skills. I came under the bridge over which I had encountered the bees. Here, water could be found in all four seasons of the year, even in winter when the scarcity reigns. There, a few men with lines and rods were catching fish, unaware of the harm that toxic effluents discharged in millions of gallons of sewage and industrial waste are inflicting to the fish and to the all aquatic life and the water resources.
A thin film of smog and dust particulates mixed with small threads of darkness was veiling the sky. The sun, making a red-hot ball of copper, was diving between the humps of hills. I left the shore thinking about the rivers, lakes and streams--how they harbored us on their shores, longed for the human unity, nurtured our civilizations and watered our folklores. Narcissus, a Greek youth of immense beauty, who knelt beside a lake to contemplate his beauty, and then died. That lake wept in love and memory; it provides enough evidence how do the rivers and lakes love and care humans.
H.G. Wells' words, "the immediate pressure of necessity has brightened the intellects, enlarged the powers and hardened the hearts" mirror our attitude with the nature and the inferior species. Our species, technologically more powerful than ever before in history, is feeding on the fantasy of its own collapse. At this age of overwhelming acceleration and with our cataclysmic capacity to set the human community many centuries back we are at the crosscurrents of our dominance and fragility.
This overwhelming acceleration now warrants to take a pause, to focus on the planetary health to carve out the ways for the wellbeing of humans, other living things and the entire ecosystem.