No use crying over spilt milk – and yet we lament
Once upon a city, there were kingfisher birds.
To the cacophony of bird songs that rang in the morning, they added their distinctive whistle. The residents of the city were used to their strange song; it was the rhythm to the start of their day. And yet when the bird stopped singing, they did not notice. They had been spoiled by choice, content with the pleasant sound of honking horns, the beautiful screeching of tires, and the uplifting growl of engines. Their choice made, they did not pay attention to a tiny bird that was no more.
Once upon a city there were orange butterflies.
Known as the plain tigers, they were nature’s version of fast food chains-they were everywhere. They did not choose specific plants to feed from; they did not want lavish parks to breed. They were not discriminatory, hovering with glee on the lonely potted plant on your terrace, flying with grace in the small garden near your large car porch. But then came dengue and it had to be wiped out. So the city was bombed with toxic sprays, showered with insecticide, bathed in chemicals. The butterfly, no real tiger, could not survive the onslaught. The hardy ones can be spotted sometimes still, lonely bursts of color in a brown metropolis. But at least the city was rid of dengue and so the loss was deemed to be worth it.
Once upon a city, there were parrots.
Brilliant flashes of emerald against a vivid blue sky, they flew about in packs, perched on the tallest trees, swooped down on roofs, showed off their plumage from the best vantage points. And they could mimic you! What joyous sorcery! And so the citizens decided that they wanted these birds as pets. What could a dog or a cat compare to the wonder of a talking bird. And so the parrots were caught in large numbers with nets. Many perished in the process of capture but all was forgiven for the end product would be worth it. They disappeared from the sky, driven to near extinction by trade, but the city did not notice. For they still had the bird in cages and if not in cages, then on the written page, in children’s story books and in dirty joke after dirty joke.
Once upon a city, there were bats.
The city was thankful they only came out at night for they were ugly as sin. But they were useful and this the city knew not. As chowkidaars would patrol the streets on ground on the look-out for miscreants, bats would keep watch in the air against creatures that bothered their fellow citizens. Mosquitoes, flies, moths, beetles, etc all were fair game. But even though it slept a little better because of bats, the city was indifferent towards them. When the old trees that the bats lived in were chopped down, the city did not give a passing thought to the ecological gem they were losing. As the city expanded, the bats were driven out further and further. Nobody missed them, neither the residents nor the mosquitoes.
Once upon a city there were fireflies.
Every summer night they would put up a free show, lighting up aerial routes, lighting up the darkness of 8 o’clock load-shedding, lighting up the imagination of the city’s children as they chased the flickering dots of gold wonder. As the city modernised it did not need these small wonders for what does a small light in the dark compare to the glitz of a billboard in all its garish glory? Thus the firefly was lost and in the glare of neon, its loss went unnoticed.
Once upon a city, there were trees.
Scores of them, thousands upon thousands. Then the city decided that they were an inconvenience, an obstacle to the glories that awaited the city on its way to progress. They were mowed down. The city remained oblivious to the good they did. For what use were these old roots, replenishing the underground water table? What use were these branches, offering mere shade? What good was this greenery to sore eyes besieged by concrete grey? What good was their cooling effect to a hot city faced with rising temperatures? What good was all this compared to reaching home a few minutes early? A fair bargain this, decided the city.
Once upon a city, there were ladybugs, and woodpeckers, and hornbills, and robins.
Once upon a city, there were green pigeons, and squirrels, and frogs and toads.
Once upon a city there were roads passing through green arches of boughs lovingly reaching out to each other.
Once upon a city, there was a city.
Its name was Lahore.