Our existence and the existence of wildlife are interdependent. They are the ones who ensure that we have water to drink, food to eat, and clean air to breathe, Dia Mirza tells UMANG AGGARWAL
Bollywood actor Dia Mirza, who has previously shown her love for animals by doing quirky things like adopting a leopard, sharing her name with a rhinoceros, and posing as a snake for a photo shoot, recently launched India’s first wild anthem at the Gaj Mahotsav in Delhi. She said, “I have always wondered why India does not have a wild anthem. The world comes to India to experience our wildlife — it’s such a huge tourist attraction. And historically, we have always revered and worshipped nature and wildlife. So much so that I cannot think of a single human expression — whether it is in arts or culture or religion or mythology…it is in our storytelling, our textile design, our architecture — it is everywhere. Everything we do is inspired by nature. Even the motif on your kurta, my kurta, your handbag is nature. Another reason for making the wildlife anthem was that we wanted to give the children of this country an opportunity to correlate our identity and our pride with wildlife and nature.
“People who have seen the video ask me, ‘Is all this footage from India?’ And I tell them, ‘Absolutely, it’s all ours!’ Our wildlife is visually very engaging and entertaining. Even our films haven’t explored this aspect. It reflects on the fact that many of us in the professions or vocations that we pursue become so cocooned in the idea of what it should be that we don’t explore enough. And I think it is time. I hope that through Born Free Entertainment and my participation in such work, I can find narratives that will engage and entertain and, at the same time, educate people. It’s very important to be able to walk the talk. If you genuinely love something and express that love, people will find a way to share that with you.
“The anthem goes: Pyaari hai mujhe desh ki zameen/Mere desh ki zameen/Yahaan na koi kami/Haryaali ki basti hai yahaan/Hawa hawa mein masti hai yahaan/Kahin sher ver, kahin hiran viran/Kahin ped ghane, ya dhoop kiran. There is a passage in the middle which Sunidhi Chauhan has sung. It says, ‘This is my land, this is my world. Just as you belong to nature, know that she belongs to you.’ It gives us a sense of ownership, which is essential to conservation.”
Talking about what she loves the most about elephants in particular, the actor adds, “Their loyalty and gratitude. Human beings claim to be the greatest species but I think elephants might just surpass us in value systems. Unlike us, they never forget to be thankful. They are a matriarchal society. They are very gentle and loving despite being very big. There’s just too much to love about animals.”
She does not, however, have a favourite animal as almost all of them were a part of her growing up years. She says, “I can’t actually think of one because I remember being fascinated by all. I grew up in an environment that really cultivated engagement with wildlife and nature. So, whether there were cobras that lived in our house and whom I would watch regularly pass by and never feared or there was birdwatching in the morning or the first elephant that we painted on the school wall because my father was conducting a workshop and he said, ‘Paint an elephant being born out of an egg.’ And I remember kids raised their hands and said, ‘But elephants are not born out of eggs.’ So my father said, ‘But in your imagination, they can be.’ So, I think when your upbringing is so entrenched in an atmosphere that fosters a relationship with nature and teaches you that all creativity is born out of nature, it becomes impossible to choose one favourite animal.”
Sharing more details from the environment her parents created for her, she says, “Since I remember, I saw my parents as people who were animal lovers and environmentally very conscious. My mother would never use plastic in our home. My father was constantly innovating design and technology. He built furniture and a lot of it was with locally available material. I can never forget him doing interiors for a restaurant where he actually designed kulhads to be used there. A lot of the furniture was built out of cane and bamboo and locally available material. I can’t also forget my father building a solar basket to heat water in the house. So, it’s these influences that cultivated the relationship that I have with animals and the environment.”
She adds, “They taught me that whenever you use something, think of where it’s coming from and where it’s going to go. All items of consumption come from nature; that’s a fundamental question that every human being should learn about because we do not associate material possessions — whether it’s the homes we live in or the materials we build our homes with or the clothes we wear or the jewellery we wear or anything we use — with nature. It’s only certain campaigns that have drawn people’s attention to this. For instance, now people correlate paper with trees. But the fact is that every single item of consumption other than papers too, comes from nature.
“I think Indian culture advocated frugality out of this very respect for nature. But we are living in an era where everybody is constantly asked to consume, and the correlation of economic growth is with consumption. The question now is, what kind of things do you want to consume? I have become conscious about not consuming single-use plastics. I have become conscious about ensuring that the products I use — whether it’s a make-up product or other products — are not animal tested and are earth friendly even in their packaging. I try to wear as much handcrafted and handwoven textile as possible because I really think that if you want true sustainable development, it has to help human lives and help lives that are working with nature as opposed to working against nature.”
Summing up her thoughts on India’s relationship with its wild animals, Dia says, “We need to understand that our existence is interdependent with the existence of wildlife. They are the benefactors and they are the ones who ensure that we have water to drink, food to eat, and clean air to breathe. I always refer to this quote, ‘In the end, we will only protect what we learn to love.’”