The Boy Who Ran Away

Many years ago, when I was just a child of 10 or 12, our family made frequent trips to Sattal, a little forest reserve in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Kumaon region. A place whose natural beauty, peace and serenity my father fell in love with. A place he eventually called home. It is where I am sitting at this moment, recalling an incident that is over two decades old. It dates back to a summer vacation I spent at Sattal with my sister and cousins.

As kids, we were concerned about the environment and motivated to do something about it, perhaps influenced by my father. The four of us decided that we needed to plant trees to balance out the forest fires that occur in the region almost every year. But we soon realised we didn’t have any money for the operation. Dad was leading a frugal existence, passionately building his hill dream. He didn’t have too much money to devote to this cause, but he did his bit by planting about 500 trees every year. And so we decided to raise money for tree plantation all on our own.

Our logic was simple. So many city tourists came into Sattal in the summer holidays seeking the refuge of the forest on day trips. We decided that we would set up a stall at one of the popular tourist spots and ask for donations. We made some posters in our terrible handwriting and even got a table from one of the dhabawallas in the area. All set up, we eagerly awaited the first lot of visitors. The idea was to raise some awareness about the forest fires and other environmental issues. And then ask for a small contribution. We started things off with great enthusiasm, interacting with tourists arriving in buses, requesting them to contribute to a good cause. As expected, most people refused to engage. A few interacted with us and praised our efforts but didn’t put down a single rupee towards the cause. One person who stands out in my memory was a gentleman who angrily informed us we were being subjected to child labour. “You should be in school studying!” he yelled and even threatened to call the cops on us.

That was it for me. I decided at that moment that people only cared about themselves and not the environment or anything that didn’t directly concern them. In fact, far from being of help, they were determined to crush the efforts of those who cared. Spirits dampened, I walked away from the table, never to return. I walked over to a home in the village where I had befriended a boy my age. The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying a game of cricket.

From what I remember, my sister and cousins carried on their efforts despite the setbacks. They stood their ground even after the incident with the unpleasant man, and managed to raise the princely sum of about Rs. 30. Anyhow, that was the end of that. We didn’t set up a stall like that ever again.

Dad continued to plant trees in the area year after year till he passed away a few years ago. He could see that most of the trees he planted did not survive, either due to forest fires, the lack of water or other factors. But all he could do was plant the seeds, provide what he could and hope for the best. All in the interest of Sattal, his home, his little corner of paradise. Today, more than two decades later, I’m happy to renew my father’s dream.

My cricket buddies, other friends from the area and I set up the Sattal Conservation Club around 3 years ago. Our objective is simple, to create awareness and to implement solutions to sustain the ecology of the area. And to prevent it from falling prey to the rapid and chaotic industrialisation that has become an ugly contemporary reality.

Our objectives:

  • Conservation of flora and fauna
  • Afforestation
  • Fighting and preventing forest fires
  • Waste segregation and management
  • Protection of environment, promotion of ecologically sustainable development
  • Educating locals, tourists and the youth on the importance of preserving the natural habitat
  • Promoting mindful / ethical business practices

As a group, we are strongly committed to the cause, and determined to make a difference, despite the odds. We have seen the ecological damage around us ourselves over the past 20 years and have pledged to take serious action. The forest cover is almost half of what it used to be in the ‘90s, and we have decided to come together as a community and stand in the way of any further destruction. We have learnt from our mistakes, taken on suggestions and introspected about our methods before setting out on this new course. My sister and cousins are busy pursuing diverse careers, but have pledged to contribute towards the cause with their time and skills.

And I, the boy who ran away, have promised myself that this time around I will plant those trees, come what may, with the help of the Sattal Conservation Club.

To learn more about the Sattal Conservation Club and our efforts you can visit:

A big thank you to the following people and organisations for their help so far:

  • Sattal ConservationClub
  • Thereisnoearth B
  • Amdy
  • Neerdiv Bankoti
  • Vikram Singh Kandhari
  • Prabhu Hazara
  • Rajiv Butalia
  • Asheesh Bisht
  • Priyanka Pahwa
  • Shoonya One Foundation
  • Gauri Rana
  • Adnan Vahanvaty
  • Rehana Munir – Thank you for making the edits to the story, making it an easier read.

We encourage you to engage with Save Kumaon

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