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A search for wild spaces in urban India.

Throughout the day, different birds - the tiny house sparrow, the incessantly croaking crow and

the beautiful myna - rest on the neem’s branches. Two young squirrels chase each other across

the trunk of this decades old tree. This is the view right outside the window near my desk,

where I’ve spent more time in the past few months than I have in years.

Growing up in a city with an abundance of nature, I never realised how much it had become a

part of my fabric. Long cycle rides across the countryside, hiking up the scores of hills in close

surroundings, late summer nights by the river were routine. It wasn’t a city where you could

‘grow’ though, and by 17, like everyone else my age, I was itching to leave. The allure of a big

city drew me in. The freedom, university, new experiences, all of it.

I moved through different cities, finding myself intuitively drawn to places closer to nature.

Most metros (or cities getting there) I found myself in, I realized pockets of wilderness were far

scarcer and harder to come by than where I came from. I only started realizing how much I

missed an easy access to nature when it wasn’t available in abundance - when a canopy of grey

overwhelmed the green, when I travelled for an hour to sit by the sea, scrambled to soak in the

rays of morning sun that came in through only a slit.

Were we supposed to move so far away from a natural environment? And how can we possibly

thrive so disconnected from it? So often even with all the best amenities available to me, I felt

anxiousness creeping in. Beyond the immediate gratification (if there is any) and short-sighted

vision, really what kind of a future are we envisioning?

There is enough research to suggest the link between closeness to nature and well-being. There

is also a staggering amount of data to show the adverse effects pollution has on our population -

particularly in urban and marginalized areas, from severe sickness to even death. How can we

possibly think this doesn’t affect us directly?

In a society and context that equalizes development with urbanization, opportunities and

expansion, we’re losing biodiversity at alarming rate. Development and conservation seem like

conflicting ideas, but must they be? In the years to come, efficient urban planning and urban

ecology would play a crucial role in shaping the future of our spaces, and by extension our

lives. Even the smallest pockets of nature in the city are capable of harbouring so much

biodiversity, of supporting an entire ecosystem. What if we considered co-existence,

sustainability and equality as reasonable parameters when we talk of development?

When we see the pace at which we’re losing wilderness and biodiversity, it can be extremely

disheartening, and although we’re a small part of a much bigger system, we’re all important.

Can we start with the choices we make, wherever we may be?

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