Guardian of the Snows

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Sunderlal Bahuguna
Sunderlal Bahuguna
Age: 82
Profession: Activist, environmentalist
Lifestyle: Has stopped eating rice because the crop is water intensive; Has been to a cinema hall only once; War and Peace is a favourite book; subscribes to 15 magazines; retains an unhindered travel spirit Photo: Trilochan S Kalra

UNTIL DRIZZLE turns to heavy rain, Sunderlal Bahuguna won’t go indoors. Legs folded, he sits under overcast skies outside his Tehri home detailing what he knows most intimately — the Himalayas. Most know him as a member of the 1970s Chipko Movement, and as the one who trekked the Himalayas on foot, alerting people to the perils of the Tehri Dam. But for Bahuguna, understanding and protecting the environment is not just a cause; his daily life is inextricably linked to the pulse of the mountains. He predicted 25 years ago that the Himalayan glaciers would recede, there would a water-crisis, climate change. He stopped eating rice. “It’s too water-intensive a crop for us to sustain”. His wife Vimla laughs when you ask about his favourite foods. “He roamed the mountains with one paisa, taking a roti from each house,” she says. “After such struggle, he eats what he gets.” Recently back from a Himalay Bachao Andolan meeting in Kashmir, Bahu – guna remains engaged with people’s movements. “I’m still a young man,” he says, headed to a Shimla conference. “I have to alert this generation to the coming doom. I feel young with them.” His days at Tehri begin at 5am with a puja. Then he waters the plants, reads newspapers, Gandhi’s works and troubleshoots for villagers. “We all should do one thing daily in sync with nature,” he says. It’s not surprising to know that he’s been to a cinema hall only once. Clearly, Bahuguna doesn’t live life indoors.

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Special Correspondent

Tusha Mittal has been with Tehelka since March 2008. She was educated at La Martiniere, Kolkata, and has a bachelor’s degree from Depauw University in Indiana. While in the US, she worked as a reporter and a special sections editor for a local newspaper in Boston. She also interned with CNN Internationalin Atlanta and NBC Universal in London. In her final year in college, she studied the idea of peace journalism and the role of the media in covering conflict.

She travelled to Kashmir for her graduation thesis, which dissected the role of the Indian and Pakistani media in shaping public perception of the Kashmir conflict. Her journalism interests include reporting on environment, human rights, and conflict. She has recently won The Press Institute of India award for best articles on humanitarian issues published in the Indian media. AtTehelka, she has written extensively on land rights and displacement struggles. She is based in New Delhi.

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