Landscapes of Wilderness’ is about fluidity of simple living and forest within : The Tribune India

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Landscapes of Wilderness’ is about fluidity of simple living and forest within

Landscapes of Wilderness’ is about fluidity of simple living and forest within

Landscapes of Wilderness by Narendra. HarperCollins. Pages 248. Rs 399

Book Title: Landscapes of Wilderness

Author: Narendra

Manu Moudgil

Can one live without pursuit, without curiosity and the desire to reach somewhere? That’s how most of our ancestors lived before modern civilisation made human beings think of ourselves as special and carrying a purpose. Many continue to live that way in remote parts of the world, spared from the “enlightenment”, TV commercials and government welfare schemes. Keeping them company is the wild nature. The whole outer world is their home and they merge with the landscape. But sadly, not for long. The march of civilisation continues unabated, with both social workers and swindlers as flag-bearers.

Despite its title, the ‘Landscapes of Wilderness’ is not just about the outer space. It is as much about how nature shapes our mindscape and vice versa. The book underscores the link of attachment and exploration with our social and natural landscapes.

The writer, Narendra, having lived many years in the tribal villages of Chhattisgarh, talks about his own transformations; from a child unaware of the issues beyond his own village to a young and driven ethnographer who goes to study the people of Abujhmad but ends up living like them. Staying in a bamboo hut without a door, eating boiled or roasted food and spending time in solitude led to the dropping of all the big questions about life that society had forced him to pursue.

The book moves constantly between the North Indian village of his childhood in the 1950s, the tribal villages in the 1980s and a present-day urban village in the real estate sprawl that is Ghaziabad. Through these spaces, Narendra talks about changing human behaviour and sharpening ideological and religious identities. He acknowledges the ecological, folk and philosophical as interconnected or the same. At times, the writing gets arduous, but at others, it flows. As one goes along, the rhythm of the writing is revealed and an understanding is built but the book could have been shorter.

Readers get a glimpse of the traditional ways of learning without teaching, the role of silence in daily life, co-existence of opposing beliefs and lesser focus on “doing”, debate and intellectualism. Concepts like gender roles and social hierarchies drop off. Biodiversity permeates all life, including jokes, stories, songs and deities rather than being a construct.

Simple people make their appearances throughout the book. From the rebels of Chambal ravine to unnamed well-wishers, hawkers, jugglers, priests and cooks. That the writer continues to find them even today underscores the persistence of wisdom despite the onslaught of the market forces.

Through anecdotes about travels that had to be aborted, apparitions of the forest, mist, trees and streams, the book brings out the fluidity of simple living while also commenting about failed government schemes and insensitive modern healthcare setups. One wishes the author had gone back to Abujhmad to talk about how things might have deteriorated as more roads are laid and schools built.

The writer does talk through about the shift in how we identify ourselves. Compared to earlier times when cultural identity overruled religious identities and local deities were more important, today scriptures, rituals and sky Gods prevail while the assertion of Hindu and Muslim identities is more apparent. But there are still ways people are able to go back to the old ways and invent new ones because they belong to the same land.

This book evokes questions we usually don’t ask ourselves. Can we live with less stimuli, knowledge and ambition and allow ourselves to be left alone? Can we let life unfold the mysteries at its own pace? These questions become more imperative in present times when information is available at fingertips and “live each day as if it was your last” is the anthem.