Hope Springs Eternal

Namaste from the Sambhavna Trust Clinic in Bhopal!

Spring appears to be approaching in the UK, or so I gather from the multiple Facebook status updates proclaiming the joys of sunshine and actually being able to spend time outdoors. There’s something about small shoots springing up through the earth, bright green leaves bursting from wintry branches against blue skies, and baby lambs springing joyfully around fields that makes me feel connected to nature and alive in the world. We breathe more deeply, getting out of bed is not quite such a challenge and people begin to unravel from the cocoon of British winter (if it’s raining, cold and miserable as you’re reading this I apologise for the delusional nature of this blog!).

Being connected to nature is something I’ve been thinking a lot about since my return to Sambhavna last week. When you know where medicines, food, cleaning products and flowers originate from, and see how they grow it gives you a whole new appreciation for the value of nature, not just in the ways that we benefit from the world around us but also in the beauty of the very existence of all living things. We commodify so much so often, use it to our own end and have little regard for the contribution that each flower, insect, bird and root gives to the world around us. We forget that without this evolved species we call the human race trees would still grow tall, and flowers would bloom and animals the world over would reproduce. Nature does not exist to fulfil the demand of humankind, a fact that seems to have been largely forgotten in the 21st century.

I’ve been spending more time in the garden lately, and slowly it is becoming a world I understand. Tamarind pods fall from the tall willowy tree, a deliciously intriguing combination of sweet and sour, chewy goodness. Hibiscus flowers are picked daily by the basketful and used for many medicinal purposes such as reducing blood sugar and preventing anaemia. At first I was sad to see the bright red spray of colour that covers the garden disappear as all the flowers were collected. However much to my surprise as I walked through the garden the next morning I felt a sense of spellbinding magic as the realisation dawned that every plant was once again covered in bright, blooming, red hibiscus flowers.

Yesterday evening  a bright green flash against a branch caught my eye.  A praying mantis moved deftly up and down branches in a hibiscus bush. Turning his head to stare me out with tiny but penetrating eyes he crawled over and under leaves, hiding behind them when he knew I was coming closer, raising his tail in self-defence. This guy was only one inch big, and fascinating to watch, which I did for almost an hour.

Many of the things I am learning are not what I expected when I imagined myself working in an urban area of India that has faced such devastating environmental destruction. Recognising spiky shoots of lemongrass, discovering a baby cobra, knowing when the chipmunks are having a bad day by the high pitched objections they shout to the world: these are all things I knew nothing about before coming to Bhopal  and I am finding that being connected to the world in a more simple capacity not only gives me a sense of peace and great happiness but also makes me value the existence of rich eco-systems (a much more articulate way of saying “there are lots of things” as a friend pointed out to me recently) and of living hand in hand with nature using only what we need, doing as little harm as possible to the natural environment around us.

So often we feel we don’t have time to pay attention to what is in front of our eyes, perhaps we choose not to see, because we are wrapped up in our own lives, thoughts and plans, too busy to stop to notice the setting of the sun, the changing of the leaves or the beauty of an insect making its journey through life.

Sambhavna has much to teach us all, not just about social justice, corporate responsibility and the mobilisation of communities to do things differently for a better future. Those things are all evident and certainly are fundamental to Sambhavna’s existence. However, some of the most valuable lessons to be learned lie within the clinic itself: lessons about respecting nature and the possibility of producing food, herbs and plants without poisoning them, their water supply, the earth they grow in and indeed ourselves with pesticides and chemicals.

Sambhavna teaches us to have an appreciation for all living creatures without questioning the need for their existence and allowing them to cohabit undisturbed in our environment. It gives us the opportunity to experience how being in nature allows us to quieten our minds and take time to co-exist alongside other species, to breathe in as we feel the solid roughness of tree bark against our skin or the springy coolness of dewy morning grass under our bare feet.  It encourages us to step outside and spend time completely at one with the natural world we live in, and to feel incredibly thankful to be a part of it. And perhaps the most important lesson to be learned is that with effort, determination and love in our hearts it is possible to create sustainable, environmentally-friendly community gardens in the least likely of places.

And on that note, have a beautiful Spring day!

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We believe Dow & DuPont must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.