Earth Day: CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD

Published: April 24, 2012 - 19:37 Updated: April 25, 2012 - 16:55

The Statement of One Disillusioned this Miserable Day after Earth Day 2012

Hartman de Souza  Cavorem, Quepem (South Goa)

 

This is just like a chronicle of a death foretold, made flesh by nothing more than a cynic who willingly accepts many failures, the very worst being that he could not make the world a better place to live in, with no wars, no violence, and brimming with such compassion that there would be more than enough so that no one, neither child not adult, would ever go to sleep hungry.

One knows the true picture now. That when push comes to shove in this country these days, it is the petty, ephemeral joy of having a new car (to mention just one among the many ‘things’ one can buy) – perhaps even just the cheap thrill of being able to upgrade to a newer and better and more expensive car, or some other thing or phone or person or whatever – that will win out in the end.

It is this singular attitude, that the licence raj is now over and done with and we can “shop eat celebrate” till there’s nothing left, that will ensure that many privileged human beings, Indian or otherwise, will not come out of their zones of sometimes ridiculous if not absurd comfort.

They will not spare even a glance for the poor state of this planet that they, and indeed, those many, many times more impoverished, inhabit, simply because they have their dreams of new air-conditioners and chilled water and dark glasses, and a supermarket just down the road where they can buy everything from Italian cheeses to French wine, to steaks from Japan or traditional Cajun spices from New Orleans.  

If you really want to go to town being cynical you measure life inIndiathese days by rapid pace of ‘growth’. So consider then that it took barely twenty years for our South Delhi babus and their masters to consign the thought of idealists right across the leftist spectrum – from BT to all the Royists, Lohia to Ambedkar, to at least two of the Gandhis assassinated, and many more in between – straight into the shredder, and run, like rats, to open the new filing cabinets and pull out sheaves of contracts to be signed with the World Bank, the IMF, Monsanto, Walmart and every other fossil-fuel driven industry and greed-tank you can think of.

This, in spite of the fact, that there are enough signs, world-wide, to say that Capitalism is the new God that failed, morphed in fact, into a rogue species out of control; that there is a desperate need for this country to be the same beacon that once showed the rest of the colonized world and those who brutalized them, an ostensibly different way of living.

But then who would have thought that it would take some fifty years if not less for India’s middle class to brand the cooperative movement Luddite, and open the doors for Indian industrialists and indeed, successive governments to take over and revive the machinations of the erstwhile East India Company?

The writing is clearly on the wall for those who choose to see it: this country’s social scientists may need to change their focus and lay attention on issues of equity and the unnecessary and life-killing disparities that will eventually hasten if not herald our collective destruction. They may need to significantly downgrade their expectations of ‘development’, if not their primary theses and suppositions surrounding ‘economic growth’.  If the Father of the Nation (is he or isn’t he, is the rub) made an appearance, I suspect he would not be smiling.

Such speculation apart, today’s April 22nd, and it is Earth Day. The BBC runs a documentary titled ‘Looting the Sea’. It’s like Lake Victoria happening all over again in reverse gear (please see a film, ‘Darwin’s Nightmare’). On this sacred day, I learn that we’ve now almost finished killing off a species of mackerel in the pacific to turn them into feed for salmon that in turn, are being carefully cultivated as food for the rich so that the market can be driven along smoothly.

If you Photoshop things in your head it can get pretty grim. Imagine then, if, like the mackerel in the pacific, it’s now the turn of the poorest of the human beings on this planet to be made extinct, while some choice parts of their own countries are turned into special, gated countries for those of their own who have the bling; where carefully landscaped forests and tolerable wildlife such as birds and deer and what not will be carefully protected; where there will be private silos for their own seeds and grain for sowing their own fields, feeding their private livestock and the communes maintained for their efficient and well-paid service industry; while, outside, close to the gated countries, armies stand dutiful guard over dwindling water resources.

I am in Pune when Earth Day sounds the first notes of breaking, on a fourth floor balcony, with a large mug of nicely brewed tea, watching my wife watering the plants, the sun behind making her hair gleam as it breaks against a backdrop better not seen in full daylight. Now it’s just a silhouette of the plateaus in the distance, mist in the air, a coolness that even hints of large clumps of tree that will surely emerge. The sun climbing brings the cruel joke; miles and miles and miles of concrete buildings in various stages of completion and dressage and not a single clump in sight. Instead, like sad statues, the occasional neem, bhendi, babul, pongamia, jamun, guava, lime, mango or tamarind, all trees once so common if not abundant in this area.

(This is of course the area where Suresh Kalmadi and his various cronies staged a dress rehearsal for their bigger escapade at the Commonwealth games in Delhi, staging the Youth Commonwealth Games in Pune and building a road to the stadium that begins from the University of Pune, goes through the mad, behemoth suburb of Baner and meets the highway connecting Bangalore to Mumbai. Every single tree in the way was cut and replaced with random flowering bushes, concrete laid, fancy tiles put on pavements. It was boom time over three years, as building after building came up and citizens’ groups in the area fought a losing battle, managing to halt construction on the hills leading in and consciously kick-starting a voluntary tree-planting programme that cries for more momentum with every passing day.

(The road now is a disaster, one crying for accidents to happen. Pedestrians suffer the most because the pavements are coming apart. Not that the road is any better by way of disrepair. Not a single tree has been planted either side of the road, even though, on paper, the trees have been planted and the contracts to do so, tendered, and the monies disbursed and duly accounted for. 

(Photoshopping this in your head can be disastrous if you don’t belong to the high-growth, pro-industry lobby. You can so easily see Pune bloating outwards on two sides of this highway, one growing towards and eventually joining up with Satara, the other heading to the sea and joining up in Mumbai. Imagine the roads we could get and the great cars we could drive as we race towards becoming the United States of India.)

In the nape of my wife’s neck as she bends to water her gardenia bush, as if though part of a frame, I see five fields in the process of disappearing and give one more year, we won’t even know there’s a horizon behind which the sun breaks. Behind us, two fields have already disappeared leaving at the edge an old deep well, beautifully constructed with carefully chiselled granite stone, water brimming to the very top.

In the place of the fields next to it that once grew millet and corn and vegetables, will come an eight story building, each floor with a luxurious penthouse and its own small swimming pool.

So who gets to live in these buildings?

A twenty-minute walk away is a gated complex, luxurious by any standards. Eight floors, terraced balconies all over the place. Huge, imposing gateway, high wall garlanded with red and white bougainvillaea and yellow and orange creepers; uniformed and polite guards, data immediately entered on a computer and the guest immediately notified; there’s an equally  polite escort right to the high-speed lift after a long, leisurely walk that takes one through an immaculately manicured garden, dunes of lawn broken by gulmohur, laburnum and jacaranda trees; beyond, as if a mirage, a large swimming pool with gleaming blue water.

The foyer outside the lift is monstrous; gleaming marble topped in two places by cameras that don’t work yet. But you can never be sure. I do a little Charlie Chaplin routine for both of them. The flat I visit is inhabited by a person who ordinarily speaking could only live there if he was a senior manager with a multinational. Instead he is an Indian, a renegade economist, who’s visiting from theUS. He and his girlfriend have been loaned the use of the flat by his cousin, a businessman from Mumbai, who owns one more flat in the building.

“This is a f…… bizarre place man,” he tells me while he heads to a kitchen that would set anyone back by two Nanos at least, to make us some tea.

“It’s like it’s haunted man...all the flats are sold, they’re fully furnished and there’s just the two of us living in this complex! In the other complex there’s two flats with people living in them! They’re all sold, they’ve been bought by people who don’t even need to live in them...can you believe that?

“I mean, what’s with you people? Press for squatting rights man. Don’t you guys have a housing problem here?”

To Photoshop this too in your head is to live an urban nightmare on an everyday basis, watching first hand, once fertile crop-giving fields in a two kilo perimeter sold by small and medium farmers to the builders.

The first thing the family does is to sink a bore well in the plot they have retained for themselves, and convert their once small farm-house into an architectural horror built in concrete, with a drive-way for the two new cars, one for the parents, an SUV for the eldest son, a bike or bikes for the younger; and broad enough for the lady of the house to dry her grain, chillies and what not. Then they’ll bring in a pedigreed guard dog and chain him near the gate.

I keep my cool. It is Earth Day. I enjoy and savour the sight of my wife in her gown, hair still tousled after sleep, watering can in her hand. She shows me her capsicums growing in a pot, her basil, sage, mint and parsley on the bedroom windows. I dutifully check out each of her pots, envy her for at least three or four of them. I tell her about the chillies and spinach, lemon balm, basil, onion, tomato, cluster bean, and gourd that I’m growing inGoa. Grow brinjals I tell her, only vegetable that seems to flourish in that iron-ore rich mud over there. Lovely blossoms I add, as she crinkles her nose, and shut your mouth woman I am so good I can cook the damn things twelve different ways now!

One part of me though wishes that I could kidnap her and whisk her off to Goa this Earth Day, to a small village by the sea – one of two villages where you can actually stand on a stretch of beach not already usurped by the high-growth hospitality industry and now gradually privatised; where you can see, much as if you’re passing through an anthropological museum, a traditional Goan fishing community – where men and women and children dip the excess and unsold fish into vats of brown sea salt and lay these out to dry on the road leading to the beach.

 

The men tend to just throw the fish on the blue plastic sheeting and get on with the work; the women, bend, as if sowing rice, and place the fish down in patterns that almost always tend to throw new light on the meaning and context of installation art.

In such a wonderful setting then, tiny whirlwinds of sand dancing like dervishes on the dunes, the sun rising and setting against the backdrop of the sea, the air streaked with a moist salty spray, was Earth Day celebrated with the urgency and passion it deserved.

Close to this narrow, almost deserted approach to the beach, hidden among the dunes, is a small, low-cost (perhaps right now, even a no-cost) ‘resort’, that’s run/managed by a motley crew of quasi-anarchic people and several stray dogs – not to mention the occasional cats fiercely chased away by the in-house strays who go by the names of Tango and Cash, to protect their own royal feline in residence.

Other strays here includes the young, brilliant but dissatisfied architects, designers, artists, photographers, musicians and managers, some Goan, many hybrid, who keep this place going, all just keen on exploring and designing new paradigms to replace those that appear to have failed, being innovative and consciously low-cost, using technologies carefully and encouraging visitors to live the life.

The rule is simple, straight-forward and totally shorn of hype. You go to them for instance and say, hey, this seems a crazy place, I think you guys should think of permacultural ways to grow vegetables for yourself, and sure as shit they’ll say, yeah, sure man, you can start from tomorrow…what do you need to start, how can we help?  Don’t mess with the bodies here. You would be surprised how many so-called concerned people get caught out. As Clint Eastwood would have put it, when the going gets tough here, the tough get going...

If you look at it another way, at this place, just like in the good old days when long haired men wore dirty faded jeans and stayed lean and mean more due to their hunger than a work out in the gym, the personal is made refreshingly political.

Visitors, ranging in complexion from shades of pink and pale, through various hues of brown and all the way to gleaming black, all get surprised by this space in this small fishing village by the sea in Goa, where warmth and welcome, because they are so linked to honest life practice, are not just the buzzwords used by those either opulent or wishing they were so.

This is a low-cost, sometimes no-cost venture that some months does not break even, but doggedly continues as if there was a higher reason guiding its destiny and being. It’s that rarest of retreats where between breakfast, lunch, drinks and dinner, you’ll have your fill of intense discussion, some interesting debate and yet find the space willingly given to dissension. All in one go, like a supercharged Mojito using fresh lemon balm leaves instead of mint.

So you can expect the blues one night, rock on another, classical Indian yet another night, and Baul singers in between. On a blues night, you’ll catch some great guitar lines played by a young Bengali trapped in the hospitality industry in Goa who uses his one-night stands to help him break away – and why not would be the refrain near the bar, when this poor world needs more musicians than it needs bloody investment bankers.

There are regular film screenings too, a potter’s wheel and kiln set up by a crazy design-trained couple whose warm lovely world revolves around their artistic creations, and even a maverick theatre ensemble that’s been given the freedom and joy to be in residence on call, or anytime they so wish.

You will most definitely not get a bar-room brawl here. As one elderly transgender visitor here put it eloquently, between sips of cold beer: “It seems so wonderful. You can’t really imagine that this place exists; in fact you can’t even see it from the road if you’re not careful. It just looks like a simple shack. And then, you walk through those palm fronds, and it’s wonderful. It’s like this magical place that just seems to welcome and embrace anyone who visits”.

Not surprisingly then, just recently it was the safe haven for a person guilty of crimes he is convinced he did not commit. He was a Palestinian of Moroccan origin, a refugee twice over, who had to flee Gaza and come to India as a tourist, while the woman he fell in love with and married in Cyprus, a Jew of Russian origin, had to flee Israel and seek refuge in a Scandinavian country where both now hope to make their lives, this man, sadly, now a refugee for the third time.

In keeping with their own instinctual principles, here they began their celebration of Earth Day a good two weeks earlier, thinking through how they could host a one-week art/design/architecture workshop for children, using material that most families today do not hesitate to discard. This followed an earlier interaction between the ‘resort’ and students and faculty from an architecture college in Goa who were joined by an engineer couple fromGermany. They all designed and built a raft, and a few other things recycling scrap – just tyres and tubes and what not.

Scrap remaining from that workshop was added to the plastic bottles and cans and whatever else the group of children, ranging in age from 3 to 14, brought with them – and used to introduce them to the basic concepts and practice surrounding aesthetically sound, low-cost, no-cost design and structure.

Their parents sent waste with them that all take for granted but saw instead, when they visited to celebrate Earth Day with their children, a garden of large, colourful, flamboyant animals, ranging from birds to dogs to horses, to even a large dinosaur, all made from this ‘waste’.  In between, during the workshop, the children worked with three young actors from the resident theatre ensemble, who introduced them to the rudiments of voice and movement and coached them through their performance of three poems and a chant when the sun set on Earth Day.

The day even had a genuine, old style, non-commercial, non-touristy, honest for goodness ‘flea market’, where friendly talk and barter held precedence over the crude exchange of money, which, in this magical place, at any rate, is better directed towards cold beer or tea or whatever; where prices for the same are offered on a differential rating – ranging from those who are well-to-do and can afford the prevailing tourist rates, to those gainfully unemployed/ unemployable who pay what they think is just and fair, and to those just plain simple broke who work in exchange for stay and modest board. It does give off the aura of a place that would not frown should a bill be cleared a full year late.

So that was Earth Day, April 22nd, 2012, celebrated in a small village in south Goa, prepared for conscientiously, thought through with sincerity and rigour, and implemented with a passion sorely missing these heady days of high-growth mantras and the transient dreams thereof; closing with an Octavio Paz poem intoned to a sun setting behind the sea, that coloured the sky with dreams for budding photographers.

And this is April 23rd, the miserable day after Earth Day with Monday’s blues hitting you between the eyes with vengeance.

From Koodankulam, where we wilfully choose nuclear energy over livelihood, the news is terrible. Since March 19, 2012, protesting villagers have faced a vicious state led campaign intended to silence them.

“More than 7000 cases of “sedition” and “waging war against the Government of India” have been filed just in the Koodankulam police station between September and December 2011,” writes Nityanand Jayaraman in a posting on Kafila. “These are part of 107 cases filed against 55,795 people during the same period. That is probably more than in any other police station inIndia.”

If that was bad enough, look at his email on this miserable day after Earth Day, telling us the bail hearing for Satish and Mugilan – the only two arrested at Koodankulam still in jail – came up for hearing. The matter is posted for 26th April. The Police have served fresh warrants under new cases against the two. Mugilan has been named as an accused in Crime No. 56/2012 under Sections 143, 188, 157, 291 read with 149; Satish faces fresh charges in Crime No. 329/2011 under Sections 143, 188 read with Section 34 of IPC, pertaining, respectively,  to ‘Unlawful Assembly’, ‘Disobedience to orders promulgated by public official’, ‘Harbouring persons hired for an unlawful assembly’, ‘Continuation of nuisance after injunction to discontinue’, ‘Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention’, ‘Wrongful restraint’, ‘Voluntarily causing hurt’, ‘Theft’ and ‘Criminal intimidation’.

Miserable enough? Not really. Not on this day after Earth Day 2012.

Look at Goa, where barely thirty to forty kilometres east of the sea, that sacred day was celebrated by virtue of being a Sunday, and for that reason alone, providing respite from all the illegal mining operations, now being given the go-ahead by a BJP government brought to power to ensure that the mining in Goa will continue. I for one did not buy the carefully manipulated hype surrounding the change in government in Goa, that consciously opened the doors for more mining (http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?280185). Isn’t it strange that the same journalist mentioned in my column for outlookindia.com resigned from his job in the Herald, mission successfully accomplished, to take over a new publication being floated by the mining company he earlier worked with.

On April 23rd, while one hopes that some of the children who attended the workshop by the sea inGoa, now perceived the earth with fresh and compassionate eyes, those whose business it is to destroy the environment, went about their task methodically and efficiently.

On this very day, an email was circulated to a group of Goans  and others who make a growing pro-environment lobby, and consisting of a wide and varied body of activists, artists, architects, designers, planners, economists and conservationists.

It came from one of the members, himself a prominent architect appointed to the Task Force to oversee the dismantling of an earlier Regional Plan (put together by the real estate and infrastructure lobby in Goa in cahoots with a corrupt minister of town planning) and the safe passage of a new one, which either to lack of full transparency or adequate will, was itself recently jettisoned by the new government in power.

His terse email to the group bears repeating in full:

“Met with Manohar Parrikar and the Attorney General, Sushant Nadkarni yesterday on the Regional Plan. Though they sat through most of it silently, there were a couple of comments from both of them on mining that were disturbing. The SLC had recommended termination of mines in the buffer zone and phasing out of mines in 3 years and providing alternate employment in a proposed industrial belt close to the mining areas.

“Parrikar said mining is like a drug and even though it may be bad, you have to continue it as the people will die otherwise. But he is trying to reduce the amount of ore extracted and in the meantime while a policy is being set he has allowed mine owners to export all the dumps as in any case the damage has been done by extraction. The Attorney General came out more vociferously saying, mining is the bloodline of Goa and we must have it, so what if it operates below water table... that is how mining is!

“Parrikar said the work on the new mining corridor started and there are no forests close by as he has checked this personally. The proposed railway link through the mining leases he felt was unnecessary as the railway charges too much (even though we said that this was proposed to prevent the use of trucks and pollution and the cost of the link would be borne by the mine owners). I just sensed a touch of bravado in the solutions and a lack of grasp of the issues.”

His email, though buying the argument put forward by industry a little too compliantly perhaps, brought a quick response. From an organization that is swimming in cases filed against the mining companies, came this:

“It appears we will continue to fight because the change in government will only mitigate but not provide a permanent solution. The Attorney General we all know was representing Sesa Goa in the High Court for a couple of years. He has openly defended mining in interviews.

 

“Today we got an order from the SDM Bicholim reversing the fortunes of Sesa Goa and Lithoferro Mines at Advalpal. Sesa has been told to stop mining at Advalpal and Lithoferro has been asked to restore a nullah they had killed by putting up a road on it. If only we had ten people taking these mines one by one to court, we would have the industry on its knees so that it would be forced to behave.”

 

There was another, from a Goan woman in the UK, a doting grandmother who was once a regional director with Panos and designed the first State of the Environment report brought out by the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi in the early 80s.  

She wrote:

“My heart sank...I am really disappointed with Parrikar's level of understanding of mining in Goa and as I keep saying (beginning to sound like a broken record!) he needs to be educated about mining issues. Parrikar needs to hear our voices and opinions on the mining issue.

“To say the mining is like a drug and must continue , shows his limitations and lack of relevant information - who are the "drug addicts" here and what about the victims of that addiction?  Allowing them to sell all the dumps is totally idiotic and shocking; has he forgotten that the dumps need to go back into the pits when they rehabilitate the land? I am really furious and angry about what is going on. Mining is the Bloodline of Goa? Who is he kidding?

“Once again I plead with you guys to have a meeting with Parrikar and tell him what he needs to know.  As things stand he has an excuse of being misinformed, as the only information he gets is from the mining lobby. The least we can do is demand a meeting with him and tell him a couple of truths about mining.

“I feel like taking the next flight to Goa and confronting Parrikar myself!”

This disheartening discourse apart, there seems to be increasing credence in the rumour that two years back a secret conclave was held at a prominent shrine in south Goa venerated by the upper caste mining families. It was attended by the eldest of the families and had two politicians from two parties, the same caste, in close attendance. The dictum given to one and all by the sage presiding was that regardless of which party came to power, the mining would go on. They may even have broken a coconut over this pact.

Whether the offence of desecrating this earth is predestined and therefore condoned, is neither here nor there. In the courts inGoa, younger lawyers are appalled by the open connivance that appears to be holding between various arms of the government and the big mining families. They refer to it as being “thrown into the long grass”, deliberately kept bogged down with paperwork and adjournments as volleyball is played with the cases and the continuance of mining is preserved.

It does make me think back to an old Adivasi woman in Cawrem village, in southGoa, some months back when there was a successful blockade of illegal mining traffic and women like her took turns to block the road while some went to the market at Quepem with their produce.  She calmly masticated her tobacco and betel nut furrowing a brow and creating a juice; then leant forward on her haunches, spitting the residue in a sharp splatter, each gob hitting the red mud at the side of the road like a bullet, making it explode with dust.

She wiped her mouth with her pallu but not the sneer. “People who get their water from a tap will only know what we are going through when one day they open their taps and all that comes out is red mud”.

The illegal mining operations continue apace, in fact at a faster pace if anything. Her men folk as is the case with all women in this village, have been bought with a pittance, on a differential basis, the pimps pocketing the most, the landless getting the least. Paikeachi Zor, the sacred spring dear to her, will surely disappear.

Her words ought to haunt us, if only because they were uttered as a curse.

PICS: Andrea Pereira

 

 

The Statement of One Disillusioned this Miserable Day after Earth Day 2012

Hartman de Souza Cavorem, Quepem (South Goa)

Read more stories by Earth Day: CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD

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