‘Nature has humbled me and also toughened me’

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I am still a boy from the hills who believes in the goodness of the human heart

Almora is a hill station known for its spectacular landscapes. There are lovely pine trees everywhere. As kids, we played games that involved counting pine tree leaves. If you got four, you were said to be lucky. You could walk miles playing that game without realising you had reached home. We knew how to distinguish the ‘edible’ wild berries from the poisonous ones. The hills had their own folklore. If you heard a bird chirping somewhere, there would be some strange story about how that bird was human once.

This proximity with nature has made me respect it. Nature has humbled me. The mountains, sea and forests are so grand that man cannot help but feel like a footnote—like a tiny pixel in a picture. We are all part of nature; nature isn’t a part of us. That’s why I have completely surrendered to it. I have no desire to fight with nature. I am amused to see the craze for adventure sports. You may think that you have done bungee jumping and climbed mountains, but the truth is that nature is invincible.

Nature has also toughened me. My nani, a deeply religious woman, used to take me to temples in the farthest of mountains. I saw how tough she was and I realised nature tests you, but it does not manipulate. In advertising and movies, I come across people who are mean and Machiavellian. I don’t know how to deal with them because I had no experience of that. I am still a boy from the hills who believes in the goodness of the human heart.

Apart from shaping me as an individual, Almora also defines my poetry. Its imagery recurs in my work. For instance, I often use the word ‘dhoop’ (sunshine)—as in ‘Tu dhoop hai, jhham se bikhar’ (in a song from the film Taare Zameen Par) or ‘Dhoop ke makaan’ (from Break Ke Baad). In Almora, I would stand by a window to see the effects of sunlight and shadow change the colour of the landscape. Moreover, ‘jhham’ is an onomatopoetic pahadi word, meaning ‘full throttle’.