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Archive for May, 2010

Daily sight in our cities

If there is anything that troubles me the most, it is the wanton destruction of trees in our cities. Every day there are at least 10-20 trees being hacked in my city, Bangalore. And for what? To widen roads or build the metro.

At the risk of sounding like a disaster predictor, I wonder how far this barter will go. This sacrifice of life-sustaining trees for making way for our glitzy toys.

Researching on the amount of oxygen a tree gives and carbon dioxide it absorbs, I found out that the ideal requirement is 20 trees for every person. In 2007, we had around 60 trees for every human. The rapid rate at which we are doing away with trees and adding our own population numbers leaves me aghast at how soon we will be fighting for oxygen. Oxygen wars!

The forest department has made it easy now with an amendment to fell more species of trees without permission, many of these  being native species. The timber lobby is working overtime and winning.

To protest such outrageous proposals, all that a city of 8-9 million can boast are a few hundred odd people. The others don’t need oxygen? Or perhaps they believe they can buy it at a mall.

Forget the utilitarian value, how pleasing it is to look at a tree as opposed to a large lifeless, brightly lit concrete edifice! Research has shown that greenery makes the brain work better. Yet, we like to strip it all and imprison ourselves within grey walls.

Whether you subscribe to the belief that trees too are living entities (remember scientists Bose and his experiments) or not, just stop a moment and think how vital they are for us. Don’t hug a tree like I do (out of love and gratitude) but at least save them from the saw.

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Feeling tired and bored of routine? All you need to do is go to sea. Yes, and watch the relentless movement of the waves, coming and going without a stop. Well, they are aided by the earth’s movement and all that logic but simply watching the ocean can be a rejuvenating experience for anyone.

And when a place you go for the first time seems so familiar, then? It happened yet again to me when I was at Kadalundi near Calicut in Kerala. Standing at the rocky piece of land lashed by the sea waters, I was reminded of the dream I have had – not just once but many times. Of a similar place, with a house constantly whacked by the waves. Turning around I could spot a remnant of a wall of a structure there on the rock. Maybe…

Months before I visited the US, I had dreams of being there, with my friend of college days, as also of visiting a deep valley. When I got lucky and went on a trip with friends to the St Helens volcano, I stood atop what was a similar viewpoint overlooking a valley!

I am sure it happens to many but perhaps not everyone wakes up remembering dreams. I do.

Is this our unconscious mind giving us a taste of future, or the past? Or is it like some scientist said (Einstein maybe) that everything that has happened or is to happen is all around us, and we just pick them randomly.. from a level where there is no concept of time or space…

Standing there watching the sea, awed by its energy and power, I could only wonder… about a world where space and time have slipped away noiselessly.

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 The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilisation
Ralph Waldo Emerson

That word has lost its meaning, hasn’t it? Civilisation. Being civilised once meant living in sync and working together with the community for the welfare of the larger section of society. Today, when we exasperatedly curse a place or people for being uncivilized, we are mostly referring to a lack of facilities and things of comfort. Think about it. What Emerson said sounds eerily true.

Not many among the common man know that Peak Oil is impending. What’s that?? No wonder few know the word, considering that a person who was a top official for an oil company blinked twice when I mentioned the word! In simple terms it means extraction of oil from wells is declining and discovery of new oil wells is slowing down even as oil consumption is running away. In two years, the curve will have peaked and the down trend will start.

Think a moment of how everything in our daily lives is connected to oil and you will realize how serious the implication of Peak Oil is. Essential goods and services will grind to a halt some day soon. Chaos will erupt and the mighty will survive.

 Despite climate change, many species will probably survive as they quickly learn to adapt to changing climate. Not us humans. We have become so dependent on an endless list of things for our survival and these things depend on resources from the earth. Resources which are limited.

 Which is more important for our survival – fresh air, water, and fertile soils, or what is believed to drive the economy – our industries manufacturing things? Manufacturing them with no regard to how we pollute or over-extract.

 Ecosystems offer services worth billions of dollars such as food, water, energy, clean air and medicine. But more than 60 per cent of those services are degraded worldwide and human pressure has accelerated species extinction to 1,000 times the natural rate of loss… Why do we think humans are the purpose of the planet? Why is human centrality so naturally accepted? When will we accept that we are only a part of the grand design and work for the benefit of all life on the planet? Will such a transition in consciousness happen in time? I wonder.

 Meanwhile, the least we can do is to change at the physical level. We have to change our high-consumption, energy-intense lives and turn from consumers into producers of food and water. Only then is there any hope.

Work together and share to offset the loss of ‘comfort’ aids. It could be as simple as car-pooling or using a solar cooker with the neighbourhood or making compost from waste food. We need community-centric restructuring in nearly every sector of human experience. Food, water, business, garbage and sewage, transportation, energy, culture and education, local government policy, all will require systemic overhaul for our species to survive our greed. We can consciously make the change or be jolted into chaos, there is the choice.

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Eco-warriors needed

Man-made volcano

Two eruptions have sent earthlings scurrying for solutions. One, the volcano, is a natural eruption of the planet’s pent up energy. The other, an oil slick, not showing signs of being contained, is strictly man-made. In search of energy to run machines and vehicles and all things that are today indispensable!

The oil spill, caused by the explosion of an off shore oil rig, in the Gulf of Mexico has been adding upto 5000 daily to the waters, causing untold misery to marine life and birds caught in the spill. Oil booms, dispersants and huge containers placed at the bottom of the sea floor 5000 feet below, have failed to contain the mess. The fumes from the burning of the gas is also adding to the woes. Various versions place the blame on gas hydrates formed when natural gas freezes under cold temperatures and high pressures. Did a giant methane bubble that went up the drill explode? At present there are only speculations about the explosion and subsequent volcano of oil spill.

The company involved will no doubt rush to cap liabilities and maybe blame it all on unforeseen circumstances. Just as any company would do. And in an increasingly corporatised world, there will be no takers except a few noisy activists who will soon be silenced.

The damage done by the gushing oil cannot be imagined. It will take ages to clean up the mess and even then most probably only sweep the dirt under the carpet (read ‘deep below the ocean surface’.  

Thankfully, the US administration has come out with a ban on deep sea drilling. But as usual, this is a reaction rather than proactive stance. How strong are our environment laws? How easily they are compromised is well known, especially when the company to profit has buying power.

Some of the most polluted cities of the planet are those where mining of some mineral has been undertaken. Dig, dig, dig and leave the trash all around. We simply learn to live with trash.

How long can we afford to stay silent on the environmental crisis facing the planet, brought on by sheer greed? How long can we dream of a quality life with degraded eco-system? Not too long, friends.  We cannot shut out the world and stay forever in our little sterile spaces powered by energy-hungry gadgets. The smog will creep in.

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18-month drama

Two issues in centrestage today: my niece secured a high percentage in her college exams while her close friend was left behind,and in tears; and Kasab has been finally sentenced to death by hanging.

Both issues stretched into months. For my niece it has been a long and rigorous period of tuitions and studies. For Kasab, who has been housed and fed at the cost of the very same exchequer he sought to terrorise, it has been a wait between hope and death.

Both issues find some who raised the toast, and some who cried.

But there stops the comparison, even as it raises two equally serious problems faced by society and especially youth. Intense competition and peer pressure to be on the top is seeing increasing numbers of youth take the easy out, hanging from the fan. Is this what youth is about? Pressure and pain? Definitely not. Isn’t that something dreadfully wrong with the system that encourages unhealthy competition?  Something sorely wrong with a system that focuses on academics alone?

But who will bell the cat? No one. Most parents, or rather as I have been saying, the majority, want the system. They willingly make performers of their children, if only to ride on the wings of their glory. They seek intense competition as the only way to force their children to ‘win’. They will most willingly drive their children into tuition classes from dawn to dusk. There is no joy whatsoever in their lives. Only a drive to achieve. Can winning a race give joy? I would like to know.

So, all one can do is step aside and find a way outside the system, and let the majority be. Right?

As to Kasab, he was part of the team that went on a killing spree that took the lives of 166 people. Kasab joins a queue of over 300 people in death row across the country. Another youth gone the wrong way from poverty, newspaper columns have intellectuals talking against death sentence, and being against the idea of the state taking any life, whatsoever the reason. How many can reason with the parents of those who were killed willfully by the same Kasab? Should not the sentence match the crime?

Yet, would it have been a better sentence to condemn him to life sentence? Of course, there is always hope for criminals that some day they may be set free. Does that work against a deterrant? Can a court decide on whether a criminal has ‘forfeited his right to live’? An eye for eye can leave millions dead.

Confusing indeed. When one is involved, it is difficult to separate emotions from the issue. And when one is not, it is easy to talk morals. Still, can there be joy for anyone in such sentences? Real joy? Sweet revenge, same as joy?

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Communion

What gives you most joy? Your computer? Or mobile? Or a day at the beach? Or mountains?

For me, it has been the jungles where I have felt most happy. Maybe it is Nature at its best – unconquered, mysterious, beautiful and powerful, or simply that I feel my bonds with Nature here most.

I have been to a few jungles (not many) and nothing beats the day I spent at the Mudumalai sanctuary, thanks to the courtesy extended by the then warden.

We had driven into the jungle by jeep and disembarked at a point from where we walked down a slope near a stream. The langur calls and smells strongly indicated the presence of a cat. We sat silently waiting…

It must have been some 30-40 minutes, and I would not be exaggerating if I say that was possibly the most exciting, totally conscious, and magnificent moments in my life. Feeling totally one with Nature, I could merge with it. The wilderness and beauty without resonated with the same within, making the connection.

Does not matter that finally when we gave up the wait and went down to the stream, the wet paw marks indicated a leopard had given us silent company quite recently. As Keats said, unheard melodies are sweeter still.

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