Certain phases in one’s life remain etched in indelible colours for the simple reason that they are a combination of “the firsts”. For me my 20s were when so many “firsts” happened – the first time I met someone from Delhi who wore a safari suit in pastel colours, the first time I got a corduroy jeans as gift, the first time someone remembered my birthday and posted a card diligently, the first time someone spoke with the same passion and concern about mountains and forests, rivers and people ,the first time I heard words like development and progress and whom it is meant to be…

As I look back, I realise that all of these “firsts “ were connected to one single person –NALNI DHAR JAYAL who walked into our life with ease and love, care and concern with dedication that lasted almost 5 decades. It was also the first time that someone of his stature and status considered me an equal and insisted that I call him Nalni. He always included me in heavy discussions on conservation, the Biosphere Reserves being planned in India under the UN Man and the Biosphere Program, National Parks and Sanctuaries. At times our conversation would turn to books and music and food even.Nalni relished and enjoyed all of these with equal passion and gratitude.

For me Nalni(whom we referred to as NDJ in our conversations) represented a class of people so far away and distant from my protected world down south with clear blue skies, trees and good food. He often spoke of the urban concrete jungle he was forced to be in, the grey skies he woke up to, the artificial colonial game of squash he had to play to stay fit instead of an exhilarating walk up the mountain path. In him we found a simple “pahadi” with love for tasty home cooked meal and exotic music,though. Only later did we learn that he plays sarod and had learned Kathakali in Doon School!

We were surprised and pleased that he loved and appreciated with ebullient vigour the sweet banana curry and rice, the steamed rice cakes and puttu and many other items we made for him. The best joke ever that my mother shared for years was her attempt to make batura for his North Indian taste buds that Nalni dismissed with a comment “Is this Batura”? Her hours of painstaking effort to knead the dough with curd was thrown to the winds by his unmindful but honest response…which we were able to take well and laugh about for many days!!

Little did I realise that what I perceived as a painful parting from my dear sister Santhi when she went on an assignment with her husband was one of the first ever work to understand the ecosystem value and assessment to protect and establish one of the first ever Biosphere Reserves in our country- the Namdapha in Arunachal Pradesh. For a girl just out of her teens, NDJ was the person behind the separation from my sister. Earlier in 1983 the extensive tour that Santhi and Satish made to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands with the support of NDJ became the first ever report that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi held in her hands as she went to the emerald islands with thoughts on how best to conserve the unique and precious rainforests and coral reef habitats that the islands were blessed with. For me their trips came back as shells and cowries, tales of the ebony like beauty of the Jarawas and the slides which spoke volumes about a life that was so fascinating and alien. Years later as postgraduate student in Salim Ali School of Ecology, Pondicherry the indirect influence of NDJ and his commitment to the wild served in good stead to make me gel with intense field work and deep conservation values.

Little did I know that the frequent trips Satish and at times Santhi made to Delhi were to have indepth discussions to build the content for the Environmental Policy of India along with key notes on National Parks, Sanctuaries and Biosphere Reserves in the country. These journeys appeared to me in the form of gifts from NDJ, sweet packets and fashionable tops all of which made me a special being during the college days. Thanks to the efforts of NDJ, not only Nanda Devi National Park, but also the Protected Areas of Valley of Flowers, Dachigam and many others were established.

It was amazing to realise that NDJ’s tenure as Deputy Commissioner of Kinnaur District in Himachal Pradesh from 1960 much before I was born shaped the humane side of him which was based on the “felt needs of every one of all the 77 villages of the districts that he visited “ . No doubt NDJ describes this as the “most dear and satisfying career of my life”.

It is by a strange quirk of destiny that NDJs life and career got entwined with that of my sister and husband and later on to mine too. In 1975 Nalni who became the Executive of Forests and Wildlife in the Union Government’s Forest Department decided to visit the controversial Silent Valley to see for himself the invaluable forests there.  It was then that he became part of our life as Santhi and Satihs convinced him with slides, pictures and direct experiences the need to conserve the enchanting valley. He with extraordinary ease and commitment became the link to all high offices in the country including the Prime Minister to reach the story of the rainforests to as many venues as possible. He related to each one in our family with respect and concern they deserved –to my parents and brothers.  His uncanny ability to follow your life and joys without being intrusive was special. The need to set up a National Heritage Trust by an Act of Parliament had its beginning in a journey that NDJ undertook to UK on Smt Indira Gandhi’s direction to study the National Trust there. But instead of the National Heritage Trust, a variant of it known as Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage was established in 1984. NDJ with his inbuilt commitment to Nature saw to it that INTACH has a Natural Heritage wing with a Southern Regional Office for Environmental Education in Thiruvananthapuram. This unique space that he helped create gave many young and aspiring ecologists the arena to learn , travel extensively and emulate the basics of ecology from people like Dr.Satish and  Dr.Santhi. The dilapidated jeep that was donated to the SRO of INTACH became a “high end SUV” for the team –Usha, Veena, Sandhya, Latha, Unnikrishnan, Jayakumar and many others to travel across Kerala to conducts camps and programs in schools and colleges. The booklets on relevant topics like Pesticides and Endangered species, on Plastics and the impact on ecosystems, the detailed exhibitions for the students that went on extensive round of Kerala – all of this was made possible by the meagre yet timely support that NDJ provided through his pivotal position in INTACH. Little does any one mention or remember the crucial role that he played in hand holding institutions like Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, the CES, CSE, Navadhanya, to mention a few. His silent but strong stances in the anti-dam movement for the communities and habitats that would be displaced became evident with the support he gave to Tehri, Narmada, theChipko and of course Silent Valley.

Years later when my ecological education and research work in the Lakshadweep Islands took me to Delhi for discussions in the erstwhile Planning Commission’s special cell of Island Development Authority under the able direction of Dr.SyedaHameed, I remember the enthusiasm with which NDJ opened up the treasurehouse of knowledge and experience he had as Member of IDA in 1985.

In 2000, I travelled to Dehra Dun to be with him for 2 days. We sat and talked for hours under the cherry blossom tree in bloom in his garden. He took me to all spots he loved in the place near the mountains that he cherished- the Doon School, the Wildlife Institute and so on. We discussed about the activities of the Himalayan Trust, about his wish that Santhi and Satish would visit him…when trains started plying to Dehra Dun and later flights too. He shared wistfully his wish to see us once in a while. When this year the much expected call on my birthday did not come and later when he did not respond to my wish on his in February, there was the beginning of a lurking fear that the fatal news would come soon.

Much dreaded though, there are moments when one lets go of a beloved person easily knowing his term in this form and state is over. For, dear NDJ lived a full life leaving behind true and visible examples of what a person can do with sincere dedication to his love, passion, dedication and commitment. For he did not spare an effort to ensure that wild and free places from which clean air, water, soil , wild life and food emerge will be preserved and conserved for posterity. That must be certainly why he could state as a message to the future generation that “Love, protect and expand Nature’s green gifts. They could one day become irreplaceable”

Adieu, dear mentor and friend Nalini…the one most irreplaceable in my life like the wilderness you loved …

Written in memory of ND Jayal  who passed away recently on March 18thhad a life that progressed from being an air force officer to mountaineer of High Himalayas to Joint Secretary, Department of Environment and Director of Natural Heritage Wing of INTACH to mention a few. His close association with the Save Silent Valley Movement brought him to Kerala many a time.

Anitha.S in conversation with Santhi.S and Indira Ramesh

References –

Ramesh,Jairam(2017), Indira Gandhi: A life in Nature

Surjit Das etal (Eds)(2019)NalniDharJayal: A Many Splendoured Life


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One Comment

  1. Respectful farewell to NDJ.