This is perhaps not very unusual. Man has always been a strange facility seeker being. In the distant history he made and left behind, he was so and today also he is so. The difference lies in the fact that as far as exploiting nature as his surroundings is concerned, he was very considerate, very innovative and thoughtful. Today’s man is for change, for optimum personal facility at any cost, and for gain.
Often, man shows his highly inconsiderate and anti-natural law disposition. This has cost him dearly already, will be more so in the time to come, and yet man has gone pathetically blind and deaf.
This has been a year of travel for this scribe. Making several trips in some hills and more plains of east Nepal has been the routine work thus far. And since this travel has involved conveyances of different sorts - such as two, three and four and eight-wheelers, the description made here comes from the limit of cursory glances made by a pair of old eyes looking at the same objects after a long span of time and assessing the most destructive disposition of the so-called modern man.
Once upon a time
Four years of college life at Mahendra College, Dharan, in the late sixties required frequent travel through the char kose jhadi (the eight mile wide dense forest at the southern foot of the Chure hills and forming the longest green belt) of green lush forest with wild animals and varieties of plants and trees. The jhadi used to be a natural repertoire of wild flora and fauna.
The proverb ‘hariyo ban, Neplko dhan’(green forest, the asset of Nepal) took its birth from this huge natural wealth. Nepal took pride in this throughout the history, until recently, that is. It was common to see wild animals, birds and fouls crossing the road early in the morning and evening when vehicle traffic was pretty low.
In the later years, it seemed as if the entire hills have moved down to the plains and caused unnatural growth in the local populations of the villages, market towns and cities of the low lands. Cities began to experience new social orders, problems and challenges beyond control. The most challenging effect of migration to the terai was felt by its green forest, green grain fields and serene thatch roofed tribal villages. Gradually the demographic, social-cultural, political and economic scenario got new prospects and challenges. In more recent times, this has only been intensified and complicated.
Several short and long term visits carried out this year have shocked this scribe to a great extent. A few days have passed, but the hangover of the shock remains almost intact. Several phenomena visible on the green ground observed in yester years have triggered the shock further. In sum, man has lost the sense of beauty, responsibility and gratitude to Mother Earth although the phrase ‘bhumiputra’ (sons of mother Earth) echoes everywhere almost as a fashion mantra with political smell and connotation.
But the putras along with their migrant neighbours have worked hard to change the original serene, natural and highly balanced face of the highly fertile land and very productive as well as green forest and land of east terai mainly along the highways.
The damage begins with the new burial culture visible in the forests near the highways. It begins in the char kose jhadi near Dharan and continues all the way to the vicinity of Mechi, the eastern boundary of Nepal on the East-West Highway. There are a few individual burials, and then there are small groups and finally the larger clusters. They give the impression that the dead are now living in villages, towns and cities created by their family and relations.
The idea and motive behind these creations is that the dead must be respected, delivered and remembered in style. But few would answer the query of a lay man observer - but why the heavy concrete structure above the dead body, anyway? Why not just a few lovely plants on the top of the loved ones honouring the Earth? Isn’t the concrete structure an additional burden on the dead and a scar on the face of the Mother Earth? Many would not like to answer the question. Once one dies, the soul is what matters; the body is taken by the Mother. The soul starts its long journey toward heaven, or that is what is believed by the mortals. The investment on concrete structures is only a source of pride and fulfillment on their part. The cities of the Dead will further expand in the time to come and increase the amount of grey patches in the green forest.
The other picture
There was yet another category of encroachment on the green lush land occupied earlier by grain farms and vegetable gardens. Continue driving east of Itahari on the highway looking on both sides of the road, and you find the damage done to the green field. There are scores of scars on the face of the earth in the name of land-plotting. The disease of indiscreet and unstoppable land plotting common in the Kathmandu Valley has infected this part of eastern terai at the high cost of grain and vegetable production.
This new ‘housing culture’ has caused not only great loss in food and vegetable production, but also a serious imbalance in nature. There are concrete demarcation walls, roads and streets separating individual plots. For years, these plots have not been able to yield what they were supposed to be doing and were actually doing. A highly concerned and shocked driver J. Pandey quips, "There was a time when my grandfather used to pick up cow dung from the roads and carry all the way home to dump on the garden and field. Today, one can see people driving huge trucks to dump sand, concrete and cement in the green fields. Pandey also adds that the plotting business is not flourishing; it is only occupying the green land and turning the green fields into grey.
Finally, the government must have plans to discourage the new breed of developers and exploit the productive capacity of the terai land. Failing to do this, the greying of the green land will continue and the natural imbalance will create further damage and irreplaceable natural as well as economic loss.