Dr Krithi Karanth: What are your earliest and happiest memories of being in wildlife and in nature?
Dia Mirza: I grew up in Hyderabad when our homes were surrounded by big trees and streams and rocks, and we would take walks or explore lakes and butterflies and birds. During the monsoon, red beetles would come out in the garden, and it was fascinating to discover them. I also went to a beautiful school in Hyderabad called Vidyaranya High School, where classes were held under big banyan and peepal trees, and we would go birdwatching on the hill within the premises. There was a gentleman called Mr Dolphin, who had many pets in the school, and he would put birds in large cages to give them more space to fly. My childhood included immense interaction with nature. We went rock climbing, hiking, trekking and, ironically enough, given how much I love nature and wildlife, I happened to explore a forest for the first time when filming for a show on NDTV in Madhya Pradesh. I cannot describe the magic of it; it was the most amazing feeling. I don’t think anything else has made me feel more alive and mesmerised. I realise now that not everyone feels for nature the same way. But during that time, my only thoughts were why I had waited for so long to visit it; this was my place. This is where I belong. I was in love.
KK: So many people can relate to your stories, because many of us have had a similar childhood. Tell me, when did you go from a passive appreciation for nature to becoming a strong advocate for it?
DM: When I realised that not enough people were helping, like how you help. There is increasing evidence on climate change, and it made me realise that I had to do more. India enjoys 4.3 percent of the geographical area on the planet, but we have the second-largest population fighting for space. However, less than 25 percent is forest protected area, and of that, only 5 percent is dense forest. That shook me. I realised that we are in deep trouble.
KK: And how do you think we can increase public engagement around this discourse?
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