No more a cycle of the season

Do the curly oaks of Uttarkhand still store chilled water?

An old Kumaoni folk song has a haunting refrain: "Bharpuri baajaani dhura baanj ki hawai chaw, aaj ka jayiya bati kabaki awai chaw … suroo roo roo…" The poignancy of these words is difficult to convey in translation, but what we are reminded of is a hard (and, alas, fast-fading) fact of life in the hill villages. Through the oak groves there used to blow a cold breeze, which revived body and mind – lifting the heart and making the spirit soar. The men, departing for the plains as young recruits or domestic drudges, hummed it with moist eyes. They knew not when they would return to be caressed by that breeze; hence the wail, suroo roo roo… Another song pleaded, "Ni kato ni kato jhumrali banja banjaani dhuro thando pani" – cut not the curly oaks, their roots store chilled water.

For the past two decades or so, those children of the Himalaya condemned to toil in the hot plains have returned home to depressing disappointment. The oak groves have shrunk, and the cool breeze and chilled water are gone. The blue hills yonder, and beyond them the snow-crested peaks, are shrouded in the smoke of forest fires that now rage for months. Those who consider themselves educated mutter, Climate change! The unlettered, meanwhile, look skywards, and question the eternally silent deity.

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Himal Southasian