(This appeared in the Mid-Day paper of Jan 9, 2015. Aarey Colony is an erstwhile green area demarcated for dairy activities for many decades. Successive Mumbai governments have arranged back door entries of the concrete lobby, and even leased lands to film companies for studios, with toll roads through the area always crowded with Mumbai's horrendous traffic. )
I don't think nature has reservation laws. There is a space for everyone to lead their lives, sometimes sensibly and sometimes not so.
All this changed, when the powers that be decreed that the area be demarcated for a residential technical Institution of higher learning for the benefit of the youth of the country. Massive constructions, classrooms, administrative buildings, hostels, residential quarters for staff, recreational facilities and schools happened, and as it happens in all developmental activities, those deemed not to have a say, or those whose rights over the space were ignored, were the most affected.
In my close to forty years of staying here, I have been witness to , and sometimes even a participant in, so may scenes.
A massive crowd of at lest 50 cattle, 20 years ago, in the days before halogen lamps, with a clearly defined leader cow, sitting as if in a dharna , completely blocking the main road after you entered the campus, through its then imposing Main Gate. A visiting young niece from Delhi, calling it Indira Gandhi's meeting. Cars honking and approaching close. Some last minute rising by diffident cows. Some defiant chewing of the cud, and smirking by powerful heavy lidded bovines, dark with intent in the evening gloom.
A mother driving a two wheeler with her son sitting back to back on the pillion seat, taking him to the campus school. A cow with her calves at a corner getting suddenly agitated by the sound of changing gears, as the two wheeler turned, and mobilizing for a revengeful gallop. The terrified screaming pillion kid, and the wide eyed looks of parents near the school as they notice the drama, of the unaware mother, driving and being chased by a galloping cow with horns pointing. The kid jumping off and being whisked away by helpful parents, as the mother, zips off accelerating away at a turn , grateful for a better turning ratio than the cow. And the cow slowly giving up, somewhere realizing that mothers with kids do not threaten mothers with kids.
Then there was a colleague, newly married, and settling back into his newly granted accommodation on campus as he returned with his pregnant wife after a doctor's visit. The monsoons were in full force, his residence was in an area , which was yet to have tarred roads, and there was a lot of mud and slush at the entrance . A cow, or could have been a buffalo, resplendent in the mud, kind of joyfully messing in the muck, looks up at him on the two wheeler, and slowly gets up, and starts chasing him around in spurts. He , torn between avoiding the animals horns, and stopping to allow his wife to disembark, in a tense 10 minute drama, as his wife jumps off in a dramatic dash towards the building steps, luckily safely makes it, and he continues his battle, dodging the single minded animal , and trying to accelerate out of the slush and out of the way on to the main road.
The campus human population is now in tens of thousands, but that has not deterred some animals from returning to investigate.
In the fairly recent past, some kids returning home during a school lunch break, couldn't reach their residences in a fairly high density central area. Why ? Because , sometime mid morning, a leopard had wandered on to the second floor landing of the building and was sitting there. Folks inside could not come out, and nobody dared climb the stairs. Clearly, the leopard was unaware of school timings, office hours, the fact that , unlike most folks in Mumbai, everyone returned home for lunch here, and had probably managed to saunter in during a mid morning traffic lull. The drama went on for hours, with the kids enjoying an unusual holiday , parents worried, crowds collecting outside to watch the efforts of the authorities at trying to sedate and capture the leopard for subsequent release in the forest land adjoining us.
Yes, development , as we see it happening, is difficult for the animals to understand.
Monkeys, crocodiles, dogs, all rue the lack of drinking water sources, as the lakes get polluted, and concrete replaces grasslands. Monkeys are now trained in climbing high rises, and leaping from old trees, to maraud dining rooms through windows, and have evolved into beings who differentiate between Alphonso and other mangoes and attack things selectively. And it is not unusual to see some animals loitering outside classrooms during lectures of the engineering kind.
In the last week, I have been witness to a huge cow with a hurt hoof, standing quietly outside the Main Gate , trying to make sense of the heavy traffic, noise, lights, and restless pedestrians who would suddenly cross in droves, dodging random traffic. She watched for at least two signal changes. Then she decided to amble across, dragging her foot, eyes in front, head down, sneezing intermittently.
Traffic lights turned amber, then green, folks accelerated, vehicles growled, but the traffic , waited , while she made her way across, a seven road intersection , ambling, without any special help from law and order authorities.
And then I remember the visit , to us (to our campus) , last year, of a top personality of one our most developed countries. Several days prior to the arrival, reconnaissance , sanitisation, suggestions of altered vehicular arrangements; local law authorities meekly agreeing to drastic security limitations imposed by the developed country's security set up, special passes given to those working , so many for so many decades, teaching so many , and then the passes blithely not honored, as roads were emptied, and employees, and school children returning during lunch break were held back behind rope barriers and rude shouts, in anticipation of the motorcade of the developed country person, likely to pass.
( I have been a resident here when 2 Presidents , and two PM's visited here , across the years, to address convocations, and do not remember such security. )
Yes. The aforementioned cow was barred from her own land.
And this person, not of this country, dictated our movements . In our own land.
I kind of know how the cows,leopards et al, felt.........