January 18, 2019

An Ecological Renaissance within us


Mr. Common man, heard about cutting down emission levels to pre‑1990 levels, banning chemicals that harm the ozone layer, removal of POP chemicals from the ecosystem, dam rights and the not so right dams in the minds of decision makers, forests and conservation, ever looming threats of climate change that is standing right outside your doorstep, especially if you live in Bombay in the recent years. News concerning issues not related to us are filtering down slowly, day by day to most of us living on the periphery.

It might not be termed a movement, yet it is something more than that. It is the dawn of an age when the actions of one will have a bearing upon the fate of others. Already we are seeing the shrill cries on US hegemony who are so selflessly reluctant to reduce pollution levels. Already, many show concern when oil
fields in Iraq burn, not because oil is wasted but because of the pollution being created. Already, the farmer is asking why it is raining so hard in April when July is supposed to be the season for the famous Indian downpour. Questions are being asked, whether in distant Latehar‑ where sandwiched between degrading forests, uncompromising governments and rifle yielding naxals, people cringe with doubt about their future, yet plan some innovation each day to survive fruitfully or in the hills of the Nilgiris where widespread ecosystem changes have compelled simple people to revert back to the old age customs, whence growing ragi was not decried as eating a poor mans food but, as the perfect right nutrition mix. What we see today are the beginnings of a seed about to germinate, a seed hypothetically termed as an ecological renaissance.

Renaissance for nothing less would do to save the ecosystems people that we used to be – from the impending doom looming large over us.

Ecology shall be soon ingrained in the heart of the neighbourhood friendly person. Ecology would no longer remain a subject taught at premier institutes and researched upon to gain innumerable doctorates, nor would it relegated to a handful of professionals who find it difficult to disperse the idea of a sustainable ecology to the so called teeming millions. Ecology would be instead the basic understanding through which we understand and appreciate processes of the ecosystem we live in.

The past few decades has been catastrophic to say the least, but even more catastrophic is the specter of the next few decades. Many silent springs have been written, theoris have been propounded that the idea that is environmentalism has arrived, doomsday theories have been put forth, but strangely, the real target, the masses have been neglected. The plethora of report and interpretations fills whole libraries but the person tilling the land is excluded from these exciting discussions. He is merely informed of the decisions that were taken by a couple of intellectuals and officials of their unavailability to prevent his son from committing suicide. However, the right to live and be enlivened has touched all. Now, people have started asking questions, why do we use malathion when neem might just work well, why do we build dams when all we need are small local structures, these whys are increasing day by day and taking shape in the form of countless movements. Koel karo, appiko, silent valley and chipko are merely the manifestation of harping doubts which somehow managed to stick on to our consciousness. Stuck not because they would have affected us now, but because we will surely be the one losing out.

It is a time for a green ecological renaissance and a time to strengthen old ones.



January 16, 2019

An ode to my friends who will never read this - Reposted


There was a time when intellectual stimulation was maximum, spiritual knowledge was high and human relations were cordial. It was a time not far from now, during the days of my study in college when things felt good, almost always.

I think now, why was it constantly good - that time of life..... Why over 700-800 days things constantly reached a crescendo of imagination and success. Why... was...it..like....that. It was the people after all, wasn't it. It was the quality of friends that I had, almost all, plucked by the gods who decided that he is going to create unique, talented people, all wide in their outlook and creative to the point of spillingk over. Rawat, panthi, Pradeep, Raju, Puneet, Girish, Samar, Jaiveer, Ina, Aastha and many more are just names now, but they were present then. Alive and kicking in their baby cries, as if still not over their suckling days. They all had the following basic characteristics... they had empathy, a sense of humour, a deep seriousness and a selfless outlook towards life. They all had all these and much more. They were perfectly normal people who decided not to get fazzled with life as it is today.

I saw them taking a vow together,
thought I would join them now.
I saw they were just rolling a joint together,
and knew that I could join if I wanted.
I heard their shouts during practise,
and knew that they fought hard.
I saw them staring at the sky,
and knew that they could bring it down if they wished.
I saw them take each others hand,
knew they would keep the vow forever.

Panthi is in the forces, Girish is insuring people, Raju is fighting ghosts inside, Ina is painting her heart out, Puneet is filming Hrithik nowadays, Aastha still looning around, Pradeep is helping build an empire, Rochak will soon be hotshot lawyer, Rawat is shuffling for the hard ground beneath, Sidharth may well become the craziest lawyer we ever had, Prashant is is the forces, Samar too and losing weight all the time, Jaiveer will soon win an award for the best environmental film in India - the way it is, the rest must be doing pretty well.... Not just for themselves but for those around them as well... selfless that they are.

January 11, 2019

I stand at the roads of ecstasy

I stand on the roads to ecstasy,
looking at the gardens beyond.

I look at it in wonder,
and think of the joy it gives to us all.

I think and think aloud,
of the pains I took.

I see myself looking on,
and breathing in a wonderful old song.

I look again and grasp in amusement,
and wonder what could ever go wrong.

And I know that the roads are,
nothing but a mirage that rolls on.

Why is it that I aspire to fly,
to a beautiful life beyond,

When life itself and all it's glory,
sings a soothing lullaby, in the crossroads of this timeless eon

January 8, 2019

The living trees


"If you are thinking a year ahead, sow a seed. If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant a tree." Chinese poet, 500 BC

"He who plants a tree loves others beside himself." English proverb

"The best friend on Earth of man is the tree. When we use the tree respectfully and economically, we have one of the greatest resources of the Earth." Frank Lloyd Wright

"They are beautiful in their peace; they are wise in their silence. They will stand after we are dust.They teach us, and we tend them." Galeain ip Altiem MacDunelmor

"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." Greek proverb

"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree." Martin Luther

"The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, 'In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!'" John F. Kennedy

"Trees are poems that Earth writes upon the sky. We fell them down and turn them into paper, that we may record our emptiness." Kahlil Gibran

"A tree uses what comes its way to nurture itself. By sinking its roots deeply into the earth, by accepting the rain that flows towards it, by reaching out to the sun, the tree perfects its character and becomes great. ... Absorb, absorb, absorb. That is the secret of the tree." Deng Ming-Dao, Everyday Tao

"Plant trees. They give us two of the most crucial elements for our survival: oxygen and books. " A. Whitney Brown

"To me, nature is sacred; trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals." Mikhail Gorbachev

"God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools. " John Muir

"The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life and activity; it affords protection to all beings." Buddhist Sutra

IF WE LIKED NOISE, WE WOULDN'T BE HERE
IF YOU LIKE NOISE, YOU SHOULDN'T BE HERE
(in a board posted in Landour, Mussourie)

Because....

Because I see these mountains,
they are brought low.
Because I drink these waters,
they are bitter.
Because I traced these black rocks,
they are barren.
Because I have found these islands,
they are lost.
Upon seal and seabird dreaming their innocent world,
my shadow has fallen

A poem by Kathleen Raine (1908-2003)

January 5, 2019

Tales from the Forest - Chada in Dindori

Wilderness is not all that wild. Maybe what has remained of wilderness today is just a lost memory of what was wild long back.

Sitting as I am in one of the supposedly most primitive villages of the nation, a village named Chada, deep inside the sal forests of the central highlands, I feel I know why Verrier Elwin chose to spend a few decades of his life in this place. These are the verdant forests where nothing else but poetry flows and the march of development seems stalled. But fifty years hence sitting in the village square I see the progress right down to the centre of the village. People may have conflicting views on development, but for me it gets increasingly difficult to find the one man yet untouched by our progress.

Leaving aside the development issue, it is better if I look inward and feel its beauty and not its bane. Nestled in the Maikal ranges, Baiga Chak is almost a thousand metres above the sea. The temperate climate all round the year has given rise to a wild outburst of fauna and flora, beyond one's wildest dreams. No wonder this area is known as the botanist's paradise. Outwardly silent, the village brims with life in its own way. The startlingly beautiful, well-tattooed Baiga women add to the charm. All similarities with an ordinary revenue village end at the word 'village' itself. Huge forests, calm people, a certain degree of laziness, this is for all I know, a model village.

To the uninitiated, the sarkar proclaims hat the village has four wells, two taps, one pond, one school and the list goes on and on. What purpose these signboards seem to serve is a matter of debate but the villagers use it as an effective place to smoke their morning bidis and the birds for their droppings. The village is crowded with one small hotel selling black tea and a little bhaji. The omnipresent 'pandukan' has made inroads here too, with its ubiquitous four-legged existence. A school here, a rest house close, 78 houses, that is it. And then the forests take over. They roll in from the hills on all sides ending only when the hills meet the leveled fields. These great trees catch your attention and hook you onto them. Even agriculture looks beautiful. Small fields in patches close to the forest gives one the impression of a grassy meadow in some virgin patch, the late bloom of rice adding to the colour.

Chada is a hill station where the march of progress takes a break but does have a presence, albeit less. The place may not be wild as the forests adjacent to it, but it still holds forth the hope that there is still wilderness left in the spirits of men here.

Landing here late at night for only one bus comes, and that too late at night, my first morning was as good as it gets. Mist had rolled down to the valley and hardly a living object seemed to be moving. Clouds were playing games with us. Slowly a few drops fell as if to test the mood of the people, and then the clouds burst unleashing the beauty of nature. The village as if on cue has gone quiet as if shrouded by the cloud of silence. Mornings at Baiga Chak are full of non-events, small affairs in the run of life.

Lazy is the word, lazy in its appearance, relaxed in its outlook, problems kept aside not being allowed to interfere in the joy of living life. And surely, it feels nice.

January 3, 2019

THE PRISONER’S DILEMMA


The prisoner’s dilemma is an interesting scenario in Game theory, which is a branch of mathematics that explores the strategies people adopt in dealing with each other.

In the dilemma, we imagine two prisoners, locked together in a prisoner cell for 7 years.

They have two options before them

One, trusting each other and cooperating in digging a tunnel to freedom, or mistrust and the resignation to seven years imprisonment.

There is good reason not to trust each other, because if one of them betrays the other while the digging is in progress, he will earn his freedom and a reward besides, while the other prisoner will have to face life imprisonment.

IN THE END, GAME THEORY TELLS US, MISTRUST PREVAILS MOST OF THE TIME.

The prisoner’s theory mimics the quandary that we find ourselves in with respect to management of our natural resources.

Consider a forest. If all involved would agree to protect and nurture it, it could be highly productive. But every villager suspects that even if he does not graze his own cattle or lop wood for fuel in that forest, other villagers will do so; and even if none of the villagers did, the government will give away the forest to some unscrupulous contractor who will ruin it anyways.

In the end, the prisoner's dilemma ends up operating. Usually, nobody uses the resource prudently with the result that everybody loses and nature tends to suffer drastically.


January 2, 2019

Nagzira and Navegaon Tiger Reserve - Where Deception is the key

Tucked away in a remote corner of the state of Maharashtra, far away from the gold rush of tiger sightings, trophy photography and pushy tourists, lies a national park which thrives on being relatively neglected on the side-lines of mainstream conservation discourse of Central India.

Its very remoteness deceives to flatter as Navegaon and Nagzira Tiger Reserves has somehow managed to cling on to rich remnants of the vast ancient forest that had once adorned large landscapes of Central India, despite enormous pressures. However, this remoteness is a double-edged sword for the national park may not always receive all the benefits from conventional schemes that could help alleviate the conditions of the border villages and in turn reduce pressure on the forest. Swaying between modernity and ancient customs, from negligible mobile network to an overdose of motorbikes, from traditional fuelwood collection to gas connections spreading fast, this is a park in flux. Strangely, its very name might be a deception as Nagzira ostensibly refers to a land where snakes thrived near water. However, even older legends claim antecedents from the old Sanskrit word Neg which referred to elephants and the etymology referred might have referred to elephants that lived near water.

Nagzira and Navegaon forms part of the Gaikhuri range and was part of the old Dandakaranaya where forests thrived and tribals ruled for hundreds of years. Connected in the north to Pench and Kanha in a perfect triangle and in the south to Tadoba and Gadchiroli forests, these forests have provided breathing space to animals migrating within these forests. But what sets Nagzira-Navegaon apart from other parks in Maharashtra is a high percentage of migratory bird species, with more than 3600 small and big lakes spread throughout Gondia providing a safe refuge to birds that make their temporary home in the region. About 60 percent of all birds found in Maharashtra are found only within the Navegaon park and even Sarus Crane was also known to be earlier found in large numbers and is still found further north of Gondia town. Interestingly, the forest has a much higher rainfall as opposed to other parks in the Vidarbha. As a result, specie and ecosystem diversity is high. King cobras, slender loris, mouse deer, banded krait are some vulnerable species known to have bene found at various times in these forests. The remoteness has provided refuge to wildlife since time millennia.

Consequently, its very remoteness is a cause for hope and despair. Hope, as development pressures on the region is comparatively less and despair as a huge population pressure keeps the park under threat always. Despair also because big developmental schemes such as India’s third largest power plant run by the Adanis at Tirora that can produce more than 3300 MW of power can come up without relatively much opposition within a few km from the park boundary. Despair, as ignorant villages may soon begin to suffer from the untold health related miseries of being neighbours with a giant power plant. Civil society protests are still not strong enough to ensure that the polluter pays to the villagers as well as to the forest over which the plant’s giant chimneys looms like twin angels of death.

Another modern threat that is increasing is the remoteness of most border villages that remain largely disconnected from mainstream government support. Consequently, these villages tend to take extreme measures to protect their crop lands. Large number of wild boars, spotted deer and even Nilgai have been known to die from electrocution because of rigging overhead power lines for fencing croplands. As the practice continues unabated, wildlife density in these border regions is reducing fast and, in many ways, getting pushed back deeper into the forest.

But Navegaon-Nagzira is not all about despair. The wildlife in this region has an interesting ecological aspect as there are several cases of young tiger sub-adults who have used the existing corridors to migrate to nearby parks, possibility due to conflict situations or a paucity of space in the current landscape. Currently, there are about 8 adults and 7 cubs in Nagzira and 2 males and 2 cubs in Navegaon. Though stressed, these forests have contributed to the successful dispersal of the local tiger genepool through the many corridors that connects this region to the Central Indian landscape.

Another aberration that sets this park apart is the low impact tourism currently being practised and in it lies an opportunity to develop scientifically valid ecotourism that can serve as a model for other parks in India. This is the rare example where nature trails are given prominence and facilities exist for tourists interested in bird-watching. The number of gates is spread apart and number of vehicles currently entering the forest is comparatively less intrusive. A concerted effort to develop Pitezari, Chorkhamba and Mangezari gates in Nagzira and Jhambdi gate in Navegaon with nature trail and trekking options should bring much needed revenue to these regions. Even a sustained focus on developing homestays instead of high end resorts could bring in some revenue to the local population.

With more than 100 villages surrounding both the parks, a railway line between Gondia to Chandrapur with 50 km of railway tracks within forest areas, a national highway NH 6 from Mumbai to Calcutta which cuts through the forest for more than 40 km from Sakoli to Deori, a huge power plant, grazing pressures from villages, stray incidents of poaching and fuel wood collection, the park has to undergo a daily fight in order to survive. Additionally, locals fear that schemes like the Samrudhhi Mahamarg might be initiated to connect Jabalpur to Hyderabad and may cut large swathes of the reserve.

However, these forests which are critical offshoots of large forest landscapes needs to overcome these obstacles. The best hope for the 653 Sq Km large Nazgira-Navegaon perhaps remains in its obscurity and the fact that it remains relatively unknown to most of the developed world, tucked away in a corner of the earth and without significant mineral wealth. Sometimes, the best solution for forests is to let them remain and basic protection be provided, for in the long run, nature knows her duty well and any landscape that is accorded protection tends to bounce back. Perhaps Navegaon-Nagzira will do the same.

January 1, 2019

An accident in the mines


I woke up with a thud. Thinking that the elephant had come inside the house, the mind told me to take evasive action and up I was. But there was neither the elephant nor its scent. It was but my mother waking me up from my sojourn. Handing me a bag, she told me go get some vegetables. I asked her, what would be the worth of these vegetables. Handing a 50 rupees note, she said my expenditure should not exceed this amount.

Fine, I thought, 50 rupees is a lot of money and I am not that much of spendthrift to spend even a quarter of that. Fine, get up Kunal and cycle in the town. Cycle I did but never with so much of sleepiness as that evening. Maybe it was the heat or just that I had slept late into the evening and the mind had become lazy in its action.

Buying the vegetables, I followed my usual routine of taking a circle round the colony. Now, circling is fine but doing so in a sleepy state of mind is never advisable, as per the warnings put up by the highways department. Anyways, I was cycling and seeing so many people in their activities. There was the wife of Mishra ji combing her long hair, combing it in the fading sun and her daughter, again nowhere to be seen. She, Kavita, was always on the play, and I like, others I believe, hardly ever got to view a fleeting glance of her roaming figure. With no Kavita, I lost interest and kept on cycling when I came upon some children playing in the upcoming bunglow of the agent of the colony. These were the local indigenous people, with thin sinous bodies and hardly a cover on them. Unlike, many boys from the officer's arena, I was infact very friendly with many of them and occasionally played football in their area. But those friendly guys lived on the other side and the grown up boys on this side always looked so big and scary to a small, almost always single figure like me.


Hell, leave the thoughts aside and reach home for the goodies must be ready by now. Dreaming, I came upon these small boys, puny compared to me as well. I rang the feeble cycle bell and most moved out of the way. Most but one, who looked at me in shock and me at him in disbelief. Move, move, move and before I could react much, the cycle hit his leg. I climbed down, thinking of what I would say to him when I realised that he was not able to stand up. O my god,I thought, knowing something may have gone wrong. And went wrong, it did. The boy had broken his dear left leg and unbelievably, I was the one who brought this to him. O god, I thought being still sleepy. By now, tens of boys had reached me and some had held me tight. I was forced to now rouse myself up from the sleep as much as I can and reach the state of complete consciousness. In no time, the boys took me to the agents house, enmasse, it was going to be fun for the many bystanders who had nothing better to do that lazy evening.

The thing is, no one wanted me to be taken to my father who had a reputation of being tough and they knew that if he found that I did wrong, I would be in great trouble and so would they as he will throw out the bystanders. So they took me to the agent's bunglow, shouting and cursing and having a jolly good time.

But surprise, my father who was supposed to be inside the mines was actually sitting with the agent and it took him by surprise that they had brought me there. The gang stumped, meekly told him about my mistake and sitting in the agent's house, my father in all his magnanimity decided to take care of the boy. I learnt a great lesson in mob control. stump them with their argument and seeing my father do so with great charm, the gang had to dissipate and let the family members do the talking. My father agreed that it was my doing though the fault lay in both sides and took the boy to the hospital. 8000 rupees and a week later, the boy was released and I went back to the neighbourhood to be friends again with them ( at my father's insistence).

He took care of me then as he would lovingly do now, though he gave strict orders not to let me drive my cycle under the influence of sleep, much as he would do now if I decide to drive and drink, which will never happen. He remained cool under pressure and taught me that no matter what, I must always do so, each and every time, I am stranded with nowhere to look upto...........




An open letter to the hapless leopard, imprudent tiger, unreasonable tortoise, witless pangolin, incautious deer, fairy dog and above all, the unreasonable elephant

Dear Leopard and tiger and pangolin and all the rest,

Hey, do you understand what a prayer means. Like a fervent request, like a desperate plea, like perhaps a shout out. But do you really understand what a prayer means. Or are you too over smart to disregard the dictionary meaning of a prayer. I think you are and I think that you have too much faith on the natural state of all systems. And I think, you guys suffer from some sort of an animal ego, just like we humans have. Yes, I got it. You guys are basically egoistic overconfident optimists.

That is what you are. For what could possibly explain you guys sauntering (to use John Muir's words) down national highways, state highways, PWD roads, village roads or for that matter, even forest paths. Why do you find the warmth of the tar road so enticing, why do you feel that a straight road leads to a state of animal utopia.

Ahh, I know it now, it is all due to your ego. You guys have egos and just like us, it is your ego which is getting you killed. Walking down roads as if it is your papa's, crossing highways that even men can't dare too and even cavorting in the hard tarmac. This is why you are getting killed. Not killed, but squished, trampled, pasted, knocked down and basically mutilated beyond all definitions of annihilation that your fellow men invented.

What is this primal need to cross roads. Why can't you be happy in your island, it is still a fairly big island, is it not. And even if you cross, why do you not look left or right. No primary education or what. Even a child knows how to cross a small sized road. Even a big truck knows how to cross a road. You guys are just wrong. Wrong and foolish. Listen to me, don't cross the road. Infact, you guys should start an online campaign to ban road crossings. And whats better, make the elephant your mascot. Because that terrible giant out-of-sorts artifact ranks highest in this road crossing mayhem that you guys so seem to enjoy.

Listen guys, I offer a solution. We will talk to the nearest politician or maybe an officer and get you a fencing. Or maybe, we can use the spare fencing that is leftover with authorities after they finished fencing the whole forest. These leftovers can be useful for creating another fence around roads. And as far as snakes and beetles and lizards go, well they can go to hell for that is where they are going anyways, right.

If you really feel the need to cross roads, I offer a sombre reminder. Please click on the road-kills tab in you-tube and take a look at the myriad ways that your guys end up dying. And if that does not inspire you to stop crossing the road, what else can. One look at your cousin leopard whose hind legs were totally disintegrated while trying to cross the remainder of the road makes me feel that the way to animal nirvana is only by crossing roads. And whats more, you also usually get a couple of hundreds of humans with cameras on an ever-ready-recording mode who will lap up your slight discomfort and share your struggles with life in one of the many whatsapp groups that seem to exist just to document your evening sojourns.

There is a final solution however. What if we guys decide to sit down and talk. What if we decide to close a few roads, make a few bridges, dig some underpasses, put some serious speed controllers on trains and even put some bad-ass road humps. But again, I think I was joking as I wrote this. None of this will ultimately happen in the way you guys want it. Better still, take the first idea. STOP VENTURING OUT. Find your local supermarket in that box shaped enclosure that we are so lovingly making for you. Or perhaps, learn a few prayers or two. Remember the prayer I was talking about in the first paragraph. We Indian humans love to cross roads with a prayer in our mouth, maybe you guys should emulate us. Maybe, you will just survive.

BTW, Happy New and Adventurous year to you all!!!

An Ecological Renaissance within us

Mr. Common man, heard about cutting down emission levels to pre‑1990 levels, banning chemicals that harm the ozone layer, removal of POP c...