Aarey undoubtedly is a forest and CM Eknath Shinde an ‘honest’ man
The alacrity with which the ED Government in Maharashtra reversed the MVA decision to let the forest be, point to a plan to humour builders and destroy Mumbai's remaining green lungs
BJP extols Indian history and culture but has no real understanding of them; or else it would have been aware of Rabindranath Tagore saying that India’s culture is rooted in its forest. Ours is an AranyaSanskriti. But the BJP has no respect for this culture.
So, the first thing it did after returning to power in Maharashtra was to take back parts of the Aarey forest for the Metro rail project.
As Tagore pointed out, contemporary Western civilisation is built of brick and mortar and wood, rooted in the city. But Indian civilisation is distinctive in locating its source of regeneration, material and intellectual, in the forest, not the city. India’s best ideas have come where man was in communion with trees and rivers and lakes, away from the crowds. The peace of the forest has helped the intellectual evolution of man. The culture of the forest has fuelled the culture of Indian society.
But BJP and Metro Rail authorities are busy denying that Aarey is a forest. It is just a grassland that came up on the land of the Aarey milk dairy in the 1950s to feed the cattle, they say. A recent video also makes such a claim but unwittingly, it does mention that there are lakhs of trees which will not remain untouched.
The real fear is that authorities with their nexus with builders will convert the forest into a real estate bonanza sooner or later. The Metro rail connection will be a real boon for this land grab.
We should have no doubt that Aarey in Mumbai was and is a forest. Here is something Homi Taleyarkhan, former Maharashtra minister and nature lover, wrote about Aarey way back in the 1950s. “One could hardly believe that there could be so much forest so near Bombay, so wealthy in its variety, in its sights and sounds.” He wrote this and much more in his book ‘Escape from the City’ published by Popular Book Depot in 1954.
If you are looking for something completely off even the slightly beaten track, then make this delectable trip from Aarey to Kanheri national park through the woods, he says. The road winds and twists through the thick forest. He also gives directions about approaching it. You should get off at Goregaon station and then take an anna bus to Aarey and then start walking. The road was then not fit enough for a car, was okay for a jeep. He writes about the tall trees, wild flowers, bush and shrubs, birds singing and colourful and numerous little surprises.
The writer, a real traveller, rightly says that the real delight of an outing lies in a good walk at the end of your vehicular journey.
I was shocked by the frivolous nature of proceedings in the state legislature during the confidence motion. While the new CM did well to say there would be no vendetta, his speech was almost frivolous and he spent much time in triumphantly revealing his secret late night meetings with Fadnavis.
The new CM Eknath Shinde, however, should have had a better sense of the environment as he comes from Satara district with its lovely Koyna dam and forests.
What is the use of the new Metro and the Aarey shed to the chief minister’s constituency of Thane? Metro will take years to reach Thane. Though Shinde was the urban development minister in the last govt, public transport remains poor in his constituency. It takes at least half an hour at the Thane railway station to get a bus.
People from Satara district are simple, honest and hardy. I was talking to a lawyer representing a company in a labour dispute with Mathadi workers from Satara. Though he represented the management, he was full of praise for the Mathadis and said the workers were so honest that they would not take a scrap from the factory.
Shinde too must have been a simple man once but politics can change one completely. Otherwise, you cannot build two helipads in your village which still lacks basic amenities.
(The author is a senior journalist & culture critic. Views are personal)
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)