January 22, 2009

An urgency that is missing!!!

Now I truly believe that we in this generation must come to terms with nature, and I think we're challenged, as mankind has never been challenged before, to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature but of ourselves - Rachel Carson.

It is surprising that a profound statement such as this made some decades ago holds truth even today and in a sense, requires more urgent attention from all. It is an extraordinary fact that a rich heritage is no guarantee for the acts of the present generations. We find that awareness is often lacking in much of the popular consciousness that makes up modern India and its acute loss has been felt by the natural heritage of the nation as compared to more prominent forms of heritage such as art, religion and architecture.

Indian society was built on continuing respect for all life forms including plants and trees, but the rapid acumen with which we have embraced the industrial economy has led to scaling down of our traditions. Many of us now look towards nature as one to be subdued with an apparent disregard towards what constitutes nature. However, though it is true for a large segment of people to try and exert power over natural systems, what has been of ever increasing worry is the growth of neglect. As a community which has sustained itself on natural systems, we now face a lack of imagination from parents who struggle to explain to their child the difference between rice and wheat or ragi and sugarcane. Trees are being forgotten and even an iconic tree like ficus or mango requires third party certification before the parents tentatively mention to their child the correct name. This issue of neglect has taken severe proportions with our growing zeal to keep our surroundings squeaky clean. Gardens are not diverse but more a monoculture where no weed is allowed, neither are toads and buzzing is a strict no-no. Where children used to defer to shy snakes and allow them to live peacefully, they organise group bashing of the poor reptile which is finding itself increasingly on the no mans land.

This growing neglect has had side effects. A snake which would earlier be avoided for its threat to mankind is now killed, a wild boar which would be chased away from the fields is an enemy lesser than none. On the other hands, certain elements of nature which held out special benefits to mankind were judiciously protected, often worshipped. That as then and now, the very basis of our beliefs are challenged when we overturn our respect to the rivers and the mountains, caring for the ore below and not the heritage above. Somewehere down the line, the reverence provided to elements of nature has decreased drastically because of the reduction of dependency and a perceived decrease of benefits to us, humans. So, we don’t need a river running free but one whose primary purpose is to provide drinking water to the nearest burgeoning town and neither do we need forests as they existed because their economic value is much higher as compared to their existence.

Rachael Carson was speaking about the world in her times and the division between those who want to achieve mastery and those who advocate equality has grown sharper. It is a challenge for us from now till the end of our lives on this planet to be able to come up with constructive actions that will ensure real sustainability and not just what is advocated by the academic types......