We were going to Dehradun, well a little away from Dehradun to the Wildlife Institute of India.
Pankaj had arranged all this. His niece Neeta was what he called an aggressive on field researcher who worked tenaciously for years on environment. Her husband was Dr. Qamar Qureshi who dealt with biodiversity assessment at the Wildlife Institute.
We would be spending the night there and I was looking forward to it.
We caught a bus from the Main Market at Triveni Chowk to Dehradun. It would take 45 minutes. I could see Pankaj slowly relaxing once he made up his mind to go back home.
Meanwhile in my head too, lot of stuff was happening. I wanted a change, a change from the present company and to be with myself and explore something else, something new.
I recalled just a month ago before the trip, I messaged my friends Deepta and Arjun who had moved to Uttarakhand just last year that I would be coming towards their side. They welcomed me whole heartedly.
So when I asked Pankaj during the trek if it’s possible to visit there, he said it was impossible as they lived on the other side of Uttarakhand, towards Nainital near Almora and I definitely would not have time because Dharamsala was in the plan.
But now that thought was pulling at me. I wanted a big change, I wanted to meet my friends, a similar age group to be honest who would have the same vibe, uninhibited and I could totally be myself.
The fact is that Pankaj and Jogen were much older, there was always a reverence attached because of their age, like Father Figures and I wanted to be with people closer to my age. I wanted that vibe very badly.
I remember telling it to Pankaj in the bus and he said, why not? Do what you want, just go, don’t stop yourself and so the seeds were sown.
We stopped at Dehradun bus stand and took an auto to the institute. It was 2 kms from the bus stand.
Dr. Qamar Qureshi was in his car waiting for us at the institute. It is a huge campus and I mean it’s the Wildlife Institute attached to the forest and he had come to take us to the Institute accommodation.
A gentleman to the core and I mean truly a gentleman. Very soft spoken and so precise and clear. I have met very few people in my life that are clear, straightforward and can put points across objectively.
After placing our backpacks in our respective rooms, we went to Qamar’s house. Pankaj’s niece Neeta was waiting. What can I say about this lady? Such an amazing woman.
If Qamar was soft spoken, Neeta was boisterous and aggressive. She was on the field through out the year. From setting up tents in remote Ladakh and staying there for 6 months on a particular species research to a -30 degree winter in Tibet in the harshest of conditions.
Researching on Vultures, Monkeys, tracking snow leopards gathering information and writing petitions, running across government offices, across countries and getting them to hear her, hear the dire problems we as humans were creating in the environment and most importantly take action on it.
Let me be clear. She was not an activist. I remember she actually hated that word. She took action, smart strategic actions instead of just protesting.
She worked with the government and with the other animal and environmental organizations. She freelanced and she would take on any one either side. She educated people right from grass roots. I became a big fan of her!
While Qamar was into research , she believed in action. What a deadly combination they both were. Completely opposite and yet complimented each other beautifully.
I remember how warmly she received us in her beautiful home even though she didn’t know me or Jogen. Open arms and a big smile.
Pankaj and Neeta were catching up on family stuff while I was chatting with Qamar and there is one sentence he said and it still rings in my head big time.
I was as usual asking about the environment and it’s death and destruction. And this is what he said that knocked my socks off. He said, ‘ What is death? It’s disintegration of disorder’.
That knocked me off.. Wow.. Think about it..
Qamar with his soft voice said we humans are arrogant and we can actually think we can destroy Earth? The earth has rejuvenated herself 17 million times and she will do it again for sure. So this talk of protecting environment, species, earth is nonsense, what we are doing is PROTECTING US, HUMANS.
We are trying very hard to delay the process of destruction of human beings. That’s it. It’s not about protecting ecosystem, species, flora and fauna, it’s us. The only race that will be wiped out when Earth recycles is us and it will happen.
It was strangely comforting and humbling at the same time for me. To hear this man say as it is. It reminded me of George Carlin, the famous stand up comedian and social critic who said this years ago when no one really took him that seriously.
Most of the environmentalists and activists I have met are either idealistic or angry. They are so angry with what they see and experience, the anger pours into their persona, their thoughts so much that the anger becomes them. In the end they are angry with everyone and everything and more so with themselves.
But this couple were very different from the usual people I met. They accepted change happens, they accepted certain things are not in our control, they tried and when it didn’t happen, they accepted it too. One of the most sane logical people I have met.
It was time to rest up a bit and later in the evening Qamar would take us around the institute and we would meet up for drinks and dinner at his place.
Neeta would be making a delicious dinner for us. Pankaj told me Qamar was quite a ‘Shaayar’ and quoted poems of Mirza Ghalib.
I was truly enjoying all of it and what a privilege it was.
During this journey I was meeting interesting people through the trek to now. It seemed like it was two worlds apart but really it was not. Each one was teaching me a different lesson.
It was going to be an interesting evening!