Like the Israelites of yore fleeing the hardships of Egypt for the Promised Land, we too joined an exodus on the highway, bound for greener and cooler pastures, seeking respite from the soaring temperatures of Cochin. Fittingly enough, it was the Easter weekend.
Plagued by the sweltering heat, dust pollution and the congestion on city roads, we longingly looked towards the distant hills on the horizon, waiting for the day we could pack our bags and head out of town.
The day finally came. As we hit the busy roads, memories of childhood holidays spent in the countryside, playing underneath mango trees, fishing in flooded paddy fields, and cooling off in the rivers that crisscrossed the land, came flooding.
Hours passed, yet it seemed like we had not left the urban sprawl behind. Each town merged into the next - a seemingly endless stream of store fronts. Where was the lush and beautiful Kerala advertised around the world? Every bend in the road had us hoping for a glimpse of that green landscape. But alas, like mirages in the desert, they barely appeared in our sight before disappearing again.
Eclipsing the paddy fields and coconut trees from view were giant hoardings, advertising everything from gold to sanitaryware. The fields and waterways were littered with the by-products of this rampant consumerism. A hoarding read 'welcome to the land of lakes and letters'. The lakes were choked with weeds and plastics and we, the lettered inhabitants of this land, seem impervious to our transgressions.
Once broad and teeming with life, our rivers appeared shadows of their former selves. Stripped off the sand that helps them regenerate, the river beds lay exposed to the unforgiving sun while people swarmed around water tankers and borewells to meet their daily needs
Up the winding road, we started to climb and like eternal optimists, hoped the forested hills would be a balm to us, weary travellers. The roads were broader now, not the narrow rutted tracks of the past, a sign of our progress some would say proudly; yet, the evidence of our abandonment of nature lay all around - denuded slopes, unscientifically built clusters of buildings teetering on the edge of hillsides and waterfalls with barely a trickle flowing down. Little wonder, then, that on reaching our destination at a height of 3000 ft above sea level, our temperature gauge barely got to show a degree or two lower than what it had at Cochin. Global warming knocking at our doors and yet we still clamour to convert our protected forests and wetlands into economic zones.
There is of course a growing chorus of voices trying to draw our attention to this grim scenario unfolding before our eyes but these voices are drowned out by the more dramatic discourses, which dominate our news cycles.
Perhaps, like the Israelites who due to their intransigence had to traverse the desert for 40 years before entering the Promised Land, we, who have thus far been blessed by nature, will have to traverse a desert of our own making in the years to come.