The clouds are in the habit of coming down to earth at this time of the year in the Murree Hills. Sometimes they swirl and writhe through dark forests dripping moisture; sometimes they simply appear to be static mounds of enveloping cotton wool hugging valleys and hollows, and through which mountain peaks pierce to hold up the sky above; and sometimes, quite often when I think about it, they form an impenetrable, damp blanket that hides everything from sight, disappearing the world we know and replacing it with a mysterious ‘other’.
Being cocooned in the ‘other’, as I was this morning, is an eerie experience. It is as if time has gone into ‘pause mode’ as nothing seems, or even feels, substantial and it is easy to imagine that the world is being born anew. A clean slate on which humankind can rewrite all of the wrongs it has so thoughtlessly committed and how - oh how - I wish this were true.
When the clouds lift and vision is restored, illusions are dispelled, imagination tamed, and the world is back with a vicious bang!
The once fertile, hard won, agricultural terraces stepping down the mountain sides below and across from my home, are neglected and overgrown with scrub in which plastic bags and other such detritus of the ‘modern’ world has been carelessly tossed, caught and held; and, no matter how often the clouds descend to bless the earth, the evidence of environmental destruction is not, any time soon or even in years, going to fade away. The widening gaps in once solid pine forests are open wounds created by people stealing trees for construction material and fuel. And, in the total absence of forethought, no one is prepared to heal them by planting new saplings to hold the damaged earth in place and, in time, attract the rainclouds that, for water, are essential for planetary and human survival.
There are numberless other scars on this bucolic landscape too. The snaking grey artery of yet another gouged out and blasted access road that will, in the blink of an eye, be lined with unsanctioned, unsuitable, completely out of place apartments and ‘bungalows’ on plots sold off to ‘outsiders’ by local people desirous of quick cash. That will, inevitably, trickle through their greedy fingers like proverbial grains of sand to leave nothing behind of any value whatsoever.
Then there are the new homes, built by locals on their sub-divided, once upon a time agricultural units that, carved up generation after generation, are no longer of any viable size and that, populated by ever increasing family ‘tribes’, fairly soon become squalid repositories of non-biodegradable garbage to further poison and destroy the earth.
The people here, indigenous people, increasingly complain that “life isn’t what it used to be”; that “water is increasingly in short supply”; that “fruit crops are less”; that “the weather has changed”, but, as do so many other people residing elsewhere on this badly abused planet, they totally refuse to accept that they and their lifestyles are the root cause of such problems. And, if an explanation is offered, have the incredible knack of simply blocking out anything that does not fit into their established patterns of thought: change - unless this change has immediate financial benefits - is most certainly not for them and yet they have changed and changed tremendously.
In many cases the current generation of youngsters does have at least hazy memories of, not a father but a grandfather, who still worked the family land, producing decent crops of fruit and vegetables, who kept a cow, a buffalo or a few goats, and a grandmother, who conjured up wonderful treats in her kitchen but, anyone who so much as thinks of doing such things now, is, in their partially educated eyes, crazy for not just going out and buying what they need from a shop and, this fast move away from the land does no one, least of all themselves, any long-term good.
Unemployment rates are high here. But as many of the boys and most of the girls leave school on or before matriculating, their job options, even if they go down to the cities in search of employment, are extremely limited indeed; and the girls, naturally, only have a suitable marriage on the cards - this ‘suitable marriage’ usually being to a relative of one sort or another.
This state of ‘partial education’ is, in part, due to parental and localised societal expectations, plus and this ‘plus’ is a major one, the pathetic standard of available teachers in the vicinity. Teachers, who rarely appear to have any acceptable educational qualifications of their own and who, if they bother to turn up to take their classes, display not the least bit of interest in the work of their pupils and most certainly are not, outside of crass gossip and the latest ‘must have’s’, interested or knowledgeable about the goings on in the world at large and whose environmental knowledge is limited to knowing that the seasons do change.
This dreadful state of educational affairs has, it goes without saying, much to do with the overall mess, not just in this area, but throughout the country where, frankly speaking, no one gives a damn about the future, let alone the environmental one, as long as they, as individuals, have today to complain about and that, unfortunately, is that!
The writer has authored a book titled The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War and lives in Bhurban.