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    Volume 9 Issue 2| January 8, 2010|

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A Soothing Encounter

Nasreen Taher
Left: Fragments of the hills and forest still retained. Right: The monument of the fallen Japanese soldiers in Singapore.

Bestowed with the precious gift of 'Nature' from time immemorial, every creed, realm and nation has imbibed within her attributes; a silent healer of agony and an eternal companion in happiness, nature seems to have solutions to the many unanswered riddles of man's existence and shall exist as one of the precious surroundings around us.

Away from the homeland, the muted sigh of a yearning heart escapes from the immigrant soul, which is haunted by memories of the homeland and hovers to find a familiar abode. Fortunately, Mother Nature comes to the treatment of this chronic and incurable state of the mind.

Though Singapore is rapidly spreading her wings towards an urban sprawl (the conversion of forests into land for housing)--- her authentic milieu of greenery still retains its effervescence. Like a thirsty soul who has been offered a spoonful of water in an arid desert we, the parents and teachers of the Bangla language school here, voted a 'Yes' for a day of escapade amidst Nature in Bukit Batok Nature Park on the pretext of welcoming the monsoon in Singapore which commences at the beginning of November with intermittent rain and abrupt change of sunny weather to a cloudburst that lasts till mid-January. Lying under the equatorial belt, this small island hosts frequent visits of the climatic changes from the scorching sun's rays to drizzles torrents and recently, earthquakes (October 1, 2009 9:55 a.m.).

We drove off at our earliest amidst the uninhibited abundance of flora and fauna in the Nature Park -- releasing ourselves from the invisible shackles of materialistic pursuit, which has tied us to the concrete pillars of reality in Eliot's 'The Waste Land.'

“Bukit Batok Nature Park” stands on 36 hectares of land with meandering footpaths overlooking the picturesque quarry lake. On reaching our destination, the children hopped and skipped, with their skipping-ropes, rollers and scooties; the multicoloured butterflies hovered above welcoming us in their abode.

Overwhelmed by the butterflies and the placid turtle that lay like a sovereign among the aquatic empire of many-coloured fishes and other marine attractions, the children seemed to be embracing Nature's offerings as one greets a long-lost friend.

The glaring equatorial sun reflected its beams on the iridescent lake, while the fallen leaves played hide-n-seek through its rippling waves; the splashing waves made a soft music in harmony with the gentle breeze that caressed the leaves of the trees which, to me, seemed to have surpassed any magnum opus of Beethoven, Mozart or Tchaikovsky. The only thought that came into the mind was that, if only a similar bonding had chained the brotherhood of man ---- an assurance of a better universal habitation would have been the greatest reality of life!

By and by, our morning laziness began to thaw and we brought out the breakfast items. Sandwiches, fresh fruits and fruit drinks, chatpati, meatballs and sweet rice puddings disappeared in no time at all.

Absorbed amidst the cacophony and the scurrying rustles of nameless species, we seemed to be embarking slowly on a platform belonging to the furry, feathery, and scaly residents of Nature. Liberated from the artificially cooled working cubicles for one day, we gave in to Mother Nature to pacify our souls to the brim with an immense sense of pleasure and optimism.

Enjoying to their heart's content, the children busied themselves in Frisbee competitions, recitals of bangla poems (in Singlish tones, of course); the toddlers seemed too happy to be racing each other on friendly terms, and we even ended up having a sack race -- as one or two of them had quietly managed to slip in some sacks before starting off from home.

While taking a stroll around the place, one cannot be insensible to the fact that the park retains some of the fiercest memoirs of the cruelty of Japanese invasion prior to the independence of Singapore. A monument stands for the fallen Japanese soldiers, which is surrounded by offices of the MediaCorp --- Asia's largest media and communication service. It serves to display Singapore's 'Struggle for Survival' and spontaneously took us for a walk down the memory lane to our own war of Independence in 1971.

As the day moved along, the merciless sun's rays seemed to be rising up to a level of pore-opening temperature. Drenched in sweat, we were on the edge of becoming immobilised with the heat; those of us who were contemplating their old memories got up and stretched themselves to freedom from this drowsy and drug-inducing sluggish atmosphere.

Lunch arrived in a honking large van, breathing some life into us! The food was enjoyed at heart's content, as it was past-lunchtime already.

The jingling of glass bangles, tinkling of anklets, and a sudden hullabaloo of children were not only received with amazement but were welcomed with open-arms. Those, whom we thought were not participating in our 'BORSHABORON', surprised us -by arriving fully attired for a rain dance performance.

The entrance to the Bukit Batok Nature Park.

Whether it is becoming an age factor or whether I am prone to the old axioms of my grandmother, I do not know but nowadays I have started believing that faith in the heart makes wishes come true. We were beginning to witness 'darker than before' black clouds starting to accumulate above. On unanimous request, the dancers started their performance. Whether we should call it magic or miracle or sheer luck, I still do not know but believe it or not, as the dance exhilarated, the clouds darkened more and eventually droplets started to form into drizzle and as if with a swerve of Heaven's magic wand transformed into almost a torrential rain, proving that the Singapore skies are full of surprises! All of us drenched ourselves, deliberately avoiding the shelter. After a substantial amount of rain had seeped into our souls bringing back sweet memories of a forgotten identity, we moved inside the shelter and had our afternoon snacks of shingara, pitha and some Bangladeshi sweets. The torrents raised our spirits of enthusiasm and endeavour enhancing our appetite at the same time.

After an hour and a half, the sky seemed to have satisfactorily shed her tears, letting the last beams of the setting sun brighten up the horizon. Songs of wild, nocturnal birds and insects reminded us that we were trespassing their gentle hospitality. Yet, the twilight that seemed to envelop the forest was a sight so rewarding that we dared to overstay, purposely frozen to the ground on encountering the priceless gift of transformation of twilight after the sunset, feeling the evident proximity of Nature and human beings. The conversion of a scorching sunlit day to an hour and a half's torrential rain ceasing to bring about a quiet sunset, which in turn altered into a star-studded evening sky, is a great gift of God to have witnessed in one single day. The beauty trickled down our hearts and souls, bringing an end to all worldly thoughts momentarily.

A refreshing escapade, this soothing encounter with Nature left us in a conscious contemplation about the gifts that we are showered within this transitory life; at the same time, it made us aware that we should lose ourselves more often amidst such abundance with open eyes and broadness of heart.

Back home, the monsoon had always been a rather frustrating ignominy with clogged and over flooded streets from the incessant downpour, accompanied by dampened atmosphere and other physical disarray. Today, those elapsed and ignored moments of reality magnify in the heart, haunting my immigrant psyche in 'home away from home and in the semblance of a soothing encounter with Nature and her bounteous gifts, our arid souls were replenished as a squally sprinkle cools a parched desert.


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