“Never betray the forest son or you will perish. Mark my words,” the old man after uttering the ominous words, disappeared in thin air. “Baba…Baba, where are you going? Don’t leave me here please,”hoarsely whispered the man sprawled on the ground. Blood dribbled all over the smudged mud as the leafy tentacles wrapped around his legs and began pulling him down into the blood-splattered ground.
“Nooooo!!” I woke up screaming. My heart was pounding and my baggy eyes were burning with sweat dripping from my brows. “Are you alright Bashir?” My wife asked worried. “Just another nightmare,” I replied whilst knowing that this nightmare might soon become a reality.
For generations, my family of woodcutters had been performing our jobs in the most arduous conditions. Cut-off from the city life, our families were largely dependent on these indigenous forests as they were the main source of our livelihood. It was among the most fatiguing occupations, as we had to travel to the most inaccessible places, along the slopes of steep mountains in damp cold forests just to earn enough money for spending a day or two. A wooden shack, consisting of two rooms with a clay floor and a kitchen was what I called home where monsters of insufficient resources, starvation and lack of hygiene were always residing to swallow us.
Lately, illegal timber logging had become a profitable business in our region. The timber mafia used corrupt means to gain access to forests, did extraction without permission, and illegally exported it to other countries without a fine. All this had encouraged them to cut down more trees knowing that they will get away with it at the end. Witnessing my tattered lifestyle, a friend suggested to join hands with the mafia.
A major part of my childhood memories belonged to the forest whose muddy gravels to traverse, stumps to jump and trails to cruise were my daily routine. While Baba was engaged in cutting trees, I used to explore innumerable tracks and steep landscapes, admiring the majestic scenery. “Never betray the forest,” is what my father had always taught me but hunger knows no boundaries.
The timber mafia leader was a stout middle-aged man with an outlandishly mischievous grin on his face. Legs crossed and arm resting on the table, he questioned me as if I was some fresh prey caught in his trap.
“You ready to do it?” he asked. Clenching my fists, I stared helplessly at his uncaring self. He walked up to me and placed a money stuffed envelope in my hand. “Report till 15th, as you aren’t the only one left,” he affirmed in his stale tone and walked out of the door leaving me confused. Days passed with horrible nightmares but there was no end to my trauma.
“Aba do you know that deforestation was the cause of recent floods?” my heart skipped a beat on the query posed by my son one day. On inquiring further, he narrated his teacher’s lesson about the current condition of forest exploitation that had induced loss of precious timber by 25%. Shrunk to nearly three square miles, another flood could prove disastrous causing serious damage to the environment and hurting the livelihoods of local inhabitants.This revelation shriveled me from the inside and I was compelled to play my part. A local social organization working against deforestation endorsed my message and organized a cogent campaign. A crowd of more than a thousand locals participated and set a world record by simultaneously giving their beloved trees a loving squeeze. This symbolic gesture signified their respect and affection towards our forests and raised awareness regarding ecological problems often overshadowed by the local communities.
Forests are a dense backbone for our native wildlife to thrive in while absorbing the ferocity of the floodwater as well. If authorities continued to allow the denuding of country’s woodlands, our generations may face a catastrophic future.
Written By : Kiran Ashraf
Photo Credits : Hassan RazaTags: chopping, wood, woodcutter