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latha-anantha

I compose this letter in my mind’s scribble pad sitting in the eastern verandah of the wild refuge you adopted as your home 2 decades back. Beyond the Diwi-Diwi tree, the path leads to the small pond that you always used to invite me to join for a dip as a break from  my urban home. I can hear racket-tailed drongos and koels along with kingfishers and woodpeckers from the canopy. How can I not remember and share the message you sent me from this verandah last year:-

“Sitting inside facing the East Verandah. All are sleeping. Me observing the bird life on Diwi Diwi.We have already placed a water bowl for birds below the tree. The babblers always bathe together with the racket tailed drongo keeping a watch from above. The nagamohan flits around restless till the babblers leave the scene. Two black headed orioles are perched on the shade. I have never seen them drink water from the bowl. The little flowerpecker makes itself heard over the cacophony of the babblers. The cuckoo and tree pie makes a royal entrance. The magpie pair are deeply into each other to bother about drinking water. But then what a beautiful happening on a single tree in just one hour. The blessed Diwi Diwi was planted by dearest Santhi”

As I sit in my home 48 hours after bidding you farewell, I hear a rustle outside the window and see the shy and elusive Orange-headed Ground Thrush which has chosen this green oasis in the city as retreat this year. I wonder when the Forest Wagtail will come and maybe the occasional Paradise Flycatcher…and then the thought about you came up…the only person with whom I could share such small details of life around. Not once did you show boredom at the repetition of such news that I would bombard you with…, you never found my messages nagging or boring…not even last year when you were in the throes of pain. You would see to it that a water bath is kept to quench the thirst of the feathered friends with the same meticulousness you would prepare a note on the fallacy of the dam project.

Once last year, you gave me a really convincing message on the need to preserve this green space where I live…You were as sure about it as saving the rainforests that are elephant corridors, that are home to hornbills, cane turtles and lion tailed monkeys.

“That home of yours should never be destroyed- a place of refuge and solace for many. A sanctuary for wilderness in the urban world. It should be left for posterity”

As I sat inside your home on the day of farewell, I watched the young people who made a large portion of the crowd outside speak in whispers, look up at the foliage, wipe a tear and hug each other to console the pain of loss. I remember your incredible capacity to link with the “new gen”, however critical you were about their mindless lack of direction, their hours glued to the high-end phone, their incapacity to relate to Nature. But you always had a word with them, enquired about their life and interests…shared a poem, a book, a painting , a song with them…made them feel special and needed…In spite of your decision often described as “harsh and unnatural” about zero population, you were most attached to kids and could charm them with your laughter, stories and songs…One of the first enquiries when we meet would be about the young people closest to me- Ammu, Manishankar, Lekhsmikutty, Meenu and Pachu. There were so many little ones in your life whom you watched growing up with amazement and care, noting dates and events of importance to them, cherishing and complimenting on their achievements and success. You really could show the world how to feel the throes and pleasures of motherhood without becoming a mother…and you did it with ease and brilliance, dear sister.

The home maker in you responded to all the spaces you occupied with color and beauty – the pictures on the wall, the rugs and carpets, the towels and shawls. And you were always the best to appreciate this in others with a soft glance and smile. Your generosity in appreciating and giving compliments that would smother the mind and heart is irreplaceable. When I saw you last week on 1st November and gifted a set of towels made from old garments, you held them in your frail hands as if it was the most valuable and precious gift you ever got…The next day I saw that you had already started using the blue Oriya one made from a three decade old kurta…I felt that you were holding me each time you used it…when I shared with you my well-used and soft shawls to cover your head after chemotherapy, you held and used them in the same way. That was you- the soft and subtle ways in which you made every moment special and magical!

When I shared with you My Letter to Gouri Lankesh that was written in September soon after her brutal murder, you read it in the pain of your body and complimented on the pain of my mind that made me write it. The generosity and spontaneity with which you supported me will lead me on…,so full and abundant it has been …, Sure I am so satiated with the overflow of emotions it creates in me:-

“Only one word- Powerful writing. I can understand why you wrote this. Your anger, frustration and love for this world is evident in the writing”

The unconditional support and trust you placed in my myriad journeys and studies in Sreekrishnapuram, the journeys in search of women in environmental movements, your own long talk on what leads you on, the Lakshadweep sea faring experiences, the intense and pain-filled narratives from Koodankulam… You reiterated that the river flows and joins the sea and thereby connected my work in the islands with your campaign for a free flowing river…How amazing was the way you could relate ecosystems with our individual temperaments…, mine like a raging ocean and yours like a free flowing river.

And then when Tree Walk was born you gave me the nod of approval by messages and likes…When many fire brand activists remarked with a sly smile about the attempt to preserve a few city trees when whole forests are being logged as superficial, you flooded me with new ideas and relevance of the green lungs and corridors in the city especially in the wake of the impending crisis created by Climate Change. This was You, dear friend and comrade – how well you could relate the emotional, esoteric and often romantic element of conservation thought with pragmatic life sustaining strategies…

The ease with which you conducted and collected the often misinterpreted “data” with the real ecological value of each and every being on Planet Earth is so remarkable. Your portrayal of the River as a living, changing entity, dynamic and full with all rights as a living being was so persuasive and powerful an argument …undeniable and rational, scientific and convincing that the world had to listen to it and resonate with it. The way in which you shared the interconnectedness of the web of life and the ebb and flow of the river, whether to a group of children in the School of Rivers, a local politician and or a Environment Minister who admitted that it was your argument that made the decision…that was the most glorious and finest contribution you made to the conservation movement in this point of time. The declaration by the movement  recently that the struggle is won opened the eyes of many including the politicians who were juggling to disprove what the River Research Centre has categorically shown regarding  the irrelevance and fallacy of the dam that would bring no benefit at all. That you could raise issues like watershed, down stream rights of the community and the need for the river to reach the sea in the most simple way without losing the complexity and intertwined effect of Nature’s bonds is what makes you the special crusader, dearest heart …For you the base line on which the edifice of life, thought and campaign was build has been love…Is that why you wrote to me last year? :

“I have always felt that if we are capable of understanding a person / nature to whatever depth possible within our limited capacities, love automatically happens…”

The deep sharing we had about sisterhood was so evident on the day you chose to leave us. We would have liked to ask you, the expert on stars, numerology, dates and month if November 16th, 2017, the first day of Vrischikam had any significance and meaning. The way in which you connected and retained bonds with women and girls was so heartbreaking on that day…I wished you could have seen it. The heavy sobs and cries of Geetha, Kanchana and a group of girls from Vazhachal, the quiet sorrow of Amminichechi and the loud lamenting of Janakichechi who could not come but said she wants to remember the vibrant and healthy you, spoke volumes about the depth of handholding you had been doing for years. The sobs of Usha who led you to us was mingled with deep love, regret and missings. The sorrow and regrets on the face of Sival and Kali from Attapady made the room heavy with the weight of the links with that eco-region for years. The tears of Suchitra, Daisy, Zabna, Sindhu,Ammini, Neeraja, Uma, Sreeja, Sangeetha,the gentle sorrow of Geethachechi  and many others revealed the depth of friendship maintained over years. The ones who stayed away- Santhi and Veena unable to bear the sight of your once vibrant self loved you much…The two stoic and unconditional presence in your life since many years – Manju and Meera were brave in their farewell and sang the two songs that bonded best with us. “We all come from the Goddess and The river is flowing”- both round songs from the Native American music collection. Last year from August till December, we held on to each other walking through the labyrinth of pain accompanied by our dear ones and this music. We shared so many messages that exemplified that time and thought is equal to love and care.

How can I not mention the brotherhood we developed over the years with Sankar (who often visited you with sweets and fish), Tomy with his food for the body and thought, Ashok with his silent prayers, Pratim with his deep philosophy, the  countless discussions with Praween and Sreedhar about your health and pain, Badusha who would enquire tearfully, Pandu with his special ways, my special bonds with Krishnettan and Ravi, Santosh who did nor dare meet you,  Manoj who came with me to Amrita and connected with you immediately and many friends like Suresh, Sajan, Jayadevan,  who never met you but had high regard for you….?And the special love and respect you had for life’s partner Unnikrishnan that you shared on many an occasion..the way you  equated his stoic presence to a forested mountain through which the tumultuous river in you flows..

As we both slowly lost and then gradually regained our capacity to walk, I remember how you liked this quote the best:

“We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the Earth. Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet”. ( Thicht Nhat Hanh).

I still cherish the series of messages we started called “Who could ask for more?” ( after Pete Seeger’s song One blue sky above us) in which we would write small poems describing nature around us…Here is one that lighted up our day once:-

The green barbet takes a break from its task of nest making on the Parijatham trunk…to take a sip from the rain water collected in a cup like woody cavity…a tender glimpse of life…who could ask for more?

We never ever felt obliged to answer and respond…This was the only way we could feel we are near each other.

Last year as you underwent the trauma of radiation with an iron shield that protected your “pea brain” we decided to chant songs to each other…me from my hospital room in Trivandrum and you in the solitude of the radiation room, The round songs that we shared included ‘Earth is our mother’, ‘Fly like an eagle’, ‘We are one in our spirit, we are one in our love’ and so on…It was so real and so true that I felt I am holding your hand and you responded that I am standing next to you…the most reassuring and healing feeling we shared along with our own  Santhi.

The next best messages were the recipes we shared…how to make thalu curry, a tasty tomato fry, a dal curry, vegetable noodles…Your messages had a shyness about it as you would enquire if one needs garlic, ginger or both…the zest for life that you preserved till the end was most obvious in your taste and longing for food….

As I met you on 3rd November, you smiled and said. “In February, I hope to walk, travel and be near the river and forests…” I too promised to join hoping and praying for my feet to regain more mobility…

As you walk away let me tell you, dear sister. This time it is you who are the able one, leaving me disabled …so take my hand…

Take my hand
We will walk
We will only walk
We will enjoy our walk
Without thinking of arriving anywhere
Waiting for the feather touch of your hand …

Anitha

Dr.Latha Anantha who spearheaded the campaign to protect the Chalakudy river (in Thrissur district of Kerala) from the proposed Athirapilly H.E Project passed away on Nov 16th 2017 after a three year battle with malignancy. She epitomized the right and sustainable balance between pragmatic science and esoteric deep ecological thought.  Through her studies along with the strong team created in the River Research Centre, Latha was able to build an undeniable and convincing body of data that proved the fallacy and ineffectiveness of the dam. Along with this the invaluable biodiversity of the forests and river, the rights of the Kadar tribes living in the banks of the river, the downstream rights of innumerable villages and last but not the least the right of the River itself as a living being were brought to the fore by her work. The best legacy she left behind was the School of Rivers which reaches out to many schools and brings children close to the river.

Anitha.S, an ecologist and social activist shared a 3 decade old friendship with Latha.