Summers at their scorchiest peak take me back in time to college days when I would find resort under trees anywhere in the city to spend afternoons, generally reading books or engaging in heated conversations with friends. No, we refused to take shelter in our homes, and sought refuge under trees, generally by lakeside. We swam, too, in those terribly hot afternoons and rested under trees. And one of the most favourite resorts was the Sonegaon lake’s eastern bank marked so beautifully by two temples facing each other and a couple of trees whose branches arched over water.
The lake is still there. So are the temples and the trees -- complete with their branches providing a wonderful overhang on the water. Unfortunately, as the summer is proceeding to its hottest moments, the lake is shrinking terribly fast. Whatever is left by way of water occupies only a small portion of the lake’s otherwise vast expanse. Naturally, sitting under the tree looking at the rippling waters shining in stark sunlight is not as pleasurable now as it used to be in those days fifty-plus years ago. For, on the far side of the waterbody, one sees countless concrete structures that house hundreds of families. What could otherwise be a good scene actually hurts the eye and the heart of any Nagpurian. For, all those structures have come up in the catchment area of the Sonegaon lake.
As an ugly consequence of the development, the lake has become nearly dead lake into which does not flow floods of water from the catchment area. Man’s urge to have homes has almost killed this lake. Today, the lake is nothing more than a depression in the land in which collects mostly rainwater. Thankfully, the trees that offered us cool shelter in sweltering afternoons are still there and look good on any day at any time. The shade shifts as the Sun advances towards evening.
No matter that, the trees do offer a cool shade even today. Some development has taken place on the eastern bank of the lake all right. Yet, the fact that the trees still stand there is a solace that the rest of the city may not be able to offer in a few more years, thanks to the dirty, heartless manner in which the civic authorities have vowed to destroy Nagpur’s arboreal cover. What a blissful time it used to be in those days when we climbed the tree, somehow slithered to the end of the branch arching over water and took the plunge into the cool expanse about 20 feet below -- even in hottest times of summer. Of course, Sonegaon lake has changed, though some vestiges of its past glory still persist. In fact, the whole area was beautiful, and some of that still is retained despite voluptuous hunger of modern society for so-called development. The area in the airport premises is still wonderfully wooded, complete with temples and artificial and paved ponds and tanks.
Overall, there is a decline in the area’s natural beauty, which hurts deep within. People often ask me as they read ‘Footloose In Nagpur’ whether I almost lived the life of a street urchin when I should have been going to school and then to college. I must explain insistently that I belonged to a wonderful, rather well-to-do family where freedom was the core value. I attended good schools and went to top colleges and won medals in scholastics and sports. But beyond those limited domains, my medical doctor parents kept doors of unfettered freedom open to exploring the surroundings that at times stretched to several towns in Nagpur’s neighbourhood. I feel terribly happy to assert that I was lucky to have had a very wonderfully free childhood.