In the ’90s and early 2000s, my childhood was all about outdoor adventures. I grew up in a house surrounded by sprawling gardens. I was a hyperactive kid, always on the go, and even taught myself how to ride a bike.
I fondly recall those days of cycling through the streets, playing Galli cricket, football, and kabaddi, and having a blast with sports at the local playgrounds and parks at the nearby Air Force stations. The real highlight was when my uncles took me to their farms every couple of weeks. We’d play out there surrounded by nature till dusk. But then, the world around me seemed to transform gradually.
Soon after I began my college education, we moved to rented houses in the city, where shared terraces were the only open spaces. We had to be closer to the hustle and bustle of public transport, but it came with its challenges, like the relentless traffic.
Finally, we landed a house in the suburbs near where I grew up. It really felt like we’d traded in all that greenery for a concrete jungle.
The balconies were like open windows to the neighbour’s wall. Plants? Well, they struggled big time. And if you dared to make a mini-garden on the terrace, you’d be in for a dispute with your neighbours who shared their laundry and construction junk with the rest of the folks and left very little space for walks or other activities. With no room for nature and a shared terrace, my quality of life plummeted from luxury to zero. To me, luxury meant a cosy 1BHK with a massive garden in the suburbs, where I could make decisions without hassle.
Back then, composting, gardening, raising strays, and outdoor group games were the norm. But now, living in apartments, all feels like an uphill battle. I’ve realized over the years that there’s nothing to look forward to without a garden. I am mostly cooped up indoors, except for my mandatory terrace exercise (that too with time slots so I don’t bother the neighbours).
I’ll be honest; I’m going through withdrawal.
Those nature-filled spaces were ripped away from me, and now I crave places with greenery. I have refused to invest in a home because nothing comes close to where I grew up.
I have also stopped meeting up with friends or going out with my spouse. You’ll find me first in line for cafes, resorts, hotels, and restaurants with lush greenery! Otherwise, I might stay in because nothing is exciting about heading to a crowded restaurant where forcefully eavesdropping on others’ conversations becomes a default.
I seek solace in remote, peaceful temples that aren’t crowded—exploring rural areas and immersing myself in local cultures that embrace nature. However, when I return home, especially to a room surrounded by four walls with no view? It’s pure agony. The apartments are so cramped that all you see are walls, and the breeze can’t even sneak in.
To me, a small house with a big garden in the suburbs beats a swanky apartment in a 30-story city building with no greenery any day.
Trust me, I’ve been there; done that. Living on the 10th or 20th floor of those skyscrapers? Living on multi-storied buildings is more chaos than convenience. The only plus was the view. You’d usually be looking at a slum (and, I loved that better than looking at neighbours’ bedrooms). I was privy to their lifestyles. They always had weekly community activities — be it sports, festivals or functions. They were resourceful about the area, extended several handy services for affluent folks, kept the neighbourhood watch and took care of new residents.
However, daily chores were getting messy. Going downstairs for everyday stuff like throwing out trash or buying groceries loses its charm, especially when those places are packed. During COVID, it got even worse. Elevators? They were practically off-limits. Every issue meant a battle in the lobby with the security guards. And when heavy rains or hurricanes hit, forget about those lifts working. We were stuck inside our homes. Such hassles have made me averse to budget high-rises, especially in India, where the infrastructure is not yet robust enough to handle emergencies.
That recent earthquake in Nepal and the tremors in Delhi-NCR, Gurgaon, and other parts of North India? They should be a lesson. We need more open spaces for shelter. Being trapped in a 30-story tower during a disaster isn’t a safe bet. We should have more parks and playgrounds, not just for our sanity but for gathering during emergencies.
Nature isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.
I kept visiting the areas near my old house often through the years. Those parks and playgrounds vanished, swallowed up by buildings and concrete. Why don’t we give nature and aesthetics more love?
My relationship with nature, green and open spaces made me an outgoing, sporty and fun-loving kid. I was more explorative and adventurous. I loved having new friends and was saner than ever. Once stripped of those things, I became more introverted and a homebody. I don’t enjoy crowded spaces or am open to experimenting with anything outside my comfort zone. I get stressed more often and crave a nature detox every week. Can so much of a person’s mental health and personality change because their relationship with nature has changed?
It’s high time we look at ourselves and think about how our growing disconnect from nature is causing us to harm the Earth and lose our sense of humanity.
Do we genuinely want to reach a point where we’re jeopardizing our sanity like this?
I am ending it here with the lyrics of Big Yellow Taxi playing in my head:
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise, put up a parking lot