Walking in the park, I overheard a squabble between a young brother and sister: “Stop singing!” the boy said. “You sound just like a frog.”
“How would you know?” the young girl retorted. “You’ve never seen or heard a frog in your whole life!”
I started thinking that I hadn’t seen a single frog this rainy season. For that matter, I don’t recollect seeing earthworms either, nor slugs, nor grasshoppers. Only a few decades ago, when I was a young fauji brat, the rainy season brought forth myriad creatures of the animal world. Red beetles, clusters of earthworms, slugs, frogs, grasshoppers and even snakes. The reptiles were fine as long as they were the non-poisonous variety, although we did have a few perilous encounters as with a furious king cobra that fell into the garden well and a Krait that crawled into the bathroom. We lived in happy coexistence with the creatures, though I was a little unnerved when I found a huge green toad with sad bulging eyes in the WC. He refused to be flushed away, ducking deep into the annals of the pot when I tried to yank him out.
Often busy little sparrows would fly into our homes and we’d rush to switch off the fans lest they got hurt. They’d fly around madly, knocking against the glass panes, whilst we earnestly tried to ‘help’ them by flapping dusters or brooms or clapping our hands to enable their flight to freedom and sigh with relief when they finally flew out. We don’t see any sparrows now. Not in the cities anyway. The only creatures that we see in prolificity are cockroaches. These, I believe, would survive even a holocaust.
On Sundays, armed with our mothers’ dupattas and jugs, we would go ‘tadpoling’. This essentially meant that we would go to the nearby chappar to capture a harvest of tadpoles, bring them home, release them in a patila filled with the chappar water and eagerly wait for the tadpoles to complete their life cycle. They were expected to grow tails and eventually turn into frogs. Mostly, they died. Ditto for caterpillars. Capture them, put them in a perforated box, supply them with assorted leaves and wait for them to metamorphose into butterflies. Or we’d go out and catch butterflies — monarchs, swallowtails, blue moons, they had lovely names...
Where did the creatures go? I believe that as my generation grew older, we systematically and heartlessly eradicated the entire species of insects, birds and animals in quest of a ‘better life’, thus depriving our children of the company of these delightful creatures. They only see frogs and snails and dormice and vultures in cartoon films now and must go to protected areas to see these creatures who once lived, crawled, scurried and flew alongside us. How sad for the kids.
I read there are efforts to redress the merciless damage we’ve caused, but I’m afraid, it’s too little, too late!
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