History Lessons Revisited

In her book The Uses and Abuses of History, Margaret MacMillan, a Canadian historian and professor at the University of Oxford, stated,

“There are many lessons and much advice offered by history, and it is easy to pick and choose what you want. The past can be used for almost anything you want to do in the present.”

History teaches us many things, and the lessons learned must be applied to different situations rather than reinventing the wheel. In a recent ordeal, my father, a seasoned academician, did just that.

I recently relocated to an urban neighbourhood in Patiala. I soon noticed that residents were experiencing numerous troubles because of the parking situation, and this often ended in heart burn amongst neighbours.

I was in a similar sticky situation. My neighbour would park his vehicle in front of my gate in such a way that it was impossible for me to get my car out.

Love thy neighbour is a message we have all been taught, and I politely persuaded with him to park the car in a better way so it would not be inconvenient for my family.

The neighbour paid no heed to my requests.

Looking for innovative ways to get past the problem, my father recommended I plant some trees in the area in front of the house. Though it would entail losing parking space for ourselves, it would also help rid us of the day to day arguments and pleading with the ‘not so friendly neighbour’.

Following his advice, I got the necessary permission from the forestry section of the Patiala Urban Planning and Development Authority (PUDA) and started preparations for the plantation drive in the no man’s land in front of my house. We visited a nursery and carefully selected five decent-sized plants.

To prevent another possible argument, I decided to plant the trees on a Sunday morning as my neighbour normally came home late from the club on Saturday night and slept in late the next day.

To keep the area vacated, I parked my car overnight outside and called my gardener and a helper early morning.

Everything was going as per plan. The gardener had dug five hollow dips for planting the trees. After having successfully planted the trees and watering them, I was about to say goodbye to him when my neighbour woke up and saw what was happening.

He aggressively charged up and uprooted one of the newly-planted trees.

My father, on seeing this, got into action and hugged the second tree.

Yes you read that right, he hugged the tree. Seeing my father’s gesture, the neighbour refrained from uprooting the other trees. By then, I had arrived and informed him that removing a tree is a serious offence under the Indian Forest Act, and that the offence is non-bailable. The letter from the forestry department was enough to calm my neighbour’s nerves.

Despite his attempts to approach the police for action against us, the prior approvals obtained by us were adequate to satisfy the intervening authorities.

Later, when I asked my father as to why he hugged the tree, he told me that when he saw my neighbour’s aggression, he was reminded of the lesson from Sunderlal Bahuguna’s renowned Chipko movement and he acted in accordance with that.

The Chipko movement, also known as the Chipko andolan, was a non-violent social and ecological campaign launched by rural peasants in India in the 1970s to protect trees and forests. The Hindi word chipko means “to hug” or “to cling to,” which reflects the activists’ main tactic of hugging trees in order to get in the way of loggers.

The timely use of a historical lesson helped us in a tough spot. While I am grateful to my father for remembering his history teachings, I am also reminded of a quote from Roy T. Bennett:

“Some things cannot be taught; they must be experienced. You never learn the most valuable lessons in life until you go through your own journey.”

P.S. Sodhi has been writing for a year and a half and finds it extremely satisfying to express his experiences in the form of short/ humorous stories.

Featured image: Dollar Gill / Unsplash