Monday, November 29, 1999

Green Couple

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Ever since their marriage in 1979, they have been visiting the woods every day, to be with natureAt Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivili, an old ranger joke goes, 'You may not spot a panther easily but you will find it hard keeping count of couples in the wildlife habitat.'As the 6pm "out gate" siren goes, the crowd begins to exit. Babies are packed into prams and families huddle into vehicles while range patrol vehicles shoo away couples on the periphery, on park bridges, parapets and the occasional bench.Around this time of heightened activity, a red Maruti enters the gates everyday. No questions are asked at the gates. A security personnel in the patrol vehicle ahead even waves a hello to the couple in the car, Remus (62) and Susanna (53), probably the oldest among the daily visitors.Once in, they trek to a spot inside the forest, "away from the crowd in the park".The Christian couple hail from Jamnagar and have been coming to the "forest" (they don't like to call it a park) since their marriage in 1979. For the rangers, they are a familiar sight carrying a foldable chair, an umbrella for "rough days", a "flask full of hot coffee" and a Bible. Remus, of course, has been visiting the range for the last 45 years and has childhood memories of walking in the range with his father."When he first met me in Jamnagar, he had set two conditions. He does not have and will not buy a television and will not take me to the theaters as he himself hasn't seen one his entire life," says Susanna. "I gave it much thought and eventually agreed saying TV and movies are not the end of the world."The wedding and the "reception in Bombay of 1979" over, Remus told Susanna he wants to show her something. It was the morning after the reception in their home at Borivili, and Susanna was still new to the city, the people and even Remus."I thought, let's see where he takes me. It won't be a theatre anyway," she recalls.It had been a good monsoon that year and the range was full of water. "It was like a blanket of green, with a fresh morning chill. He told me this is where he goes everyday. Water had collected on the paths. I remember water splashing on either side as his vehicle went deep into the forest. I felt very nice," she says. In the years to come, the couple would spent their most beautiful days, Christmas, birthdays, new year there. "Actually everyday", corrects Suzzana.During their visits, they have seen couples "boxing" each other over a fight and have encountered "hundreds of snakes" and panthers. Both remember close encounters with panthers. Remo's was very close. "Mine was when my car was stolen in the afternoon and I was walking back. In the middle of the road was a panther with her baby. The policemen sent by the nearby police station to search for my car ran away saying "biblya" "biblya" but I just walked past her. I was fuming about my stolen car anyway. Today, the panthers have come down to 25 from 74 in the early 60s," says Remus, a retired teacher, whose signature felt hat is a common sight. "I am not sure if anyone will recognize or allow entry without one", he adds.Inside the range, everyone knows them at every security pass. "They probably have seen more panthers and wild cats than us," says the range boy at the Kanheri Caves access gate. Remus pities those who sit inside the four walls and watch the world through "a box." "I come here in the open, walk around like local tribals, watch nature up close. This is life. There is nothing more perfect than nature," he says.Susanna isn't complaining. She has seen some of the most beautiful sights of her life, inside the range be it spotted deer breaking into a run or peacocks dancing. Taking us to a spot where she saw peacocks, she says, "They were dancing in the rain, several of them, with feathers reflecting their joy, all happy."She likes the "morning drill" of the monkeys moving from the trees, all in a line waiting to jump into the river. "We can learn from their discipline, they never break the queue".She also recalls the beauty of picnicking in a group or sleeping under the "big white moon."

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