Sunday, December 16, 2007

Did you bandh the batti?

We did. For a whole hour. It was great fun because n loves power outs - since, thank god, they happen relatively rarely, and because the candles come out. So we put out the lights, burnt the candles, and turned off the tv, laptop, etc. We chatted like in the old days, mom and me, before comps and tvs happened.
I realized that I could bear the lights being out, and the fans being off, the phone being off, but what I couldn't take, finally, was the laptop being off. We've got used to such 24/7 connectivity, with a constant state of activity, that I really, truly felt like a drug addict on cold turkey. My fingers literally itched and I kept wanting to switch on, to just surf a bit, a teensy bit, I'm mean who'd know... But I'm proud to report, I didn't!
Anyway, the Batti bandh campaign - though well-meaning - seems a bit overoptimisitx, if you ask me. One hour of power-saving will save the planet, reduce global warming, save the beaches, etc. etc. I don't think so. It might have conscientized people - which it sadly didn't in any large, mass sort of way. It held the promise of becoming one of those post-Rang-de-Basanti campaigns (like the anti-reservation stir) where everyone hopped on largely because it seemed like such a cool thing to do. Everyone - and here I count myself in too - fwd'd madly and hopefully - but finally nothing much happened. I wonder why.
I was a bit sceptical - I mean what does one hour of switching off do? Actions towards saving the environment have to be more comprehensive, holistic and regular. So I loved what Sampath, the books editor at DNA wrote when I fwd'd him the mail (he's put it so well, that I simply have to quote him):

I am sorry but this one-hour thing- even if it is totally voluntary - seems to me only a smoke-screen that hides the real issues - our unfettered industrialisation, obsession with 9 per cent growth, investment in stock market (how can your stocks grow without the economy growing? and how can your economy grow without more of global warming caused by more industrialisation?), our refusal to respect or even tolerate subsistence economies wherever they are - our exporting of alternative ways of living and thinking (the tribals, for example) into the past as outdated.

then there is our patronising attitude towards all that is not 'cool' - and 'cool' is really a marketing invention that is tied up with global warming - ironic as it seems - right from tata safari dicor to rock concert in a flood-lit stadium, this sounds just like a silly rant here - but if i get some time off from not heating up the globe - i can elaborate on it. this is just a response - on the spur of the moment. nothing personal.

So there you are. Angrily, but succinctly put, I thought. I fully agreed with him, especially the bit about people only attaching themselves to 'cool' issues.
Only this: forget about global warming (towards which NOTHING can be done bec of all the problems mentioned), but if people can just conserve a little power, and hopefully it will be mapped by the BSES, then I think that it might be at least a few steps towards - well, power conservation - and nothing more!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Baby on beach with crabs

Finally took a chhutti - a small one - to Goa. And came back riddled with mixed emotions as usual. I know abject poverty is terrible, but I can't help wondering whether tourism is the answer. There is something about a subsistence economy that is so ecologically sound and fundamentally dignified, that almost everything else - and tourism for sure - pales in comparison. I know this is an extremely simplistic way of looking at the situation, but honestly, when you see the way resorts and gated townships are gobbling up land in Goa, you can't help but feel a bit reactionary.

We usually stay in North Goa, where pretty much everything has been converted into a resort already. So you get an after-the-fact sort of feeling - like you've reached the place after the deed was done, and the body was packed up and put away. Everything looks a bit jaded, with an air of forced, but fairly robust cheer. North Goa makes you forget that Goa has an ecology of its own - both cultural and geographic. You just feel like you're in a city with a magnificent view.


Which is why the first time we were in Goa, when we took a day trip to the South, we loved it. The sand was white, the air was fresh (none of that nasty smell of the dieselly power-boats), there weren't too many resorts, and there was a sense of Goa with complete, unbridled green, and squat, healthy little villages. The sole GTDC resort stood stolidly on the beach.

We went back this time, after three years, and things had changed. The power boaters were there, stinking up the air and oiling the water, and offering you 'dolphin rides'. There were tons of small, ugly resorts. Suddenly, it was Calangute again, without the milling crowds - for now.

And there was a new vulnerability around as well, a certain fragile air - because small fishing villages were clinging on to the fringes of the land not bought over by the resorts as yet. We saw this in many places: great Uglinesses of concrete nestled in clumps of green. There's nothing even remotely after-the-fact-ish here. It feels as if you're standing by and watching a murder; sighing even as they gut the body while it's still alive.


The village near our resort seemed sturdy, though. The houses were spacious and prettily painted, and pigs, roosters and kids frolicked around. (Early in the morning, the cock crowed - I'm sorry, but this thrilled me beyond belief!) The five or six large houses which made up the part of the village that we could see were literally squeezed between resorts, the Railways guest house and the Indian Oil one. It made you wonder how long the villagers would be able to hold out, and once they sold, where they'd go, what they'd do, and how compromised their lifestyle already was.


There were large smelly dumps on street corners and en route to the beach. When
we suggested that the nearby hotels could get together and clear them regularly, we were told "we do that, but the 'locals' keep dirtying it." Aside from being monumental cheek, it seemed untrue simply because most of the garbage was made up of mineral water bottles and plastic bags. Which seem more touristy in nature, and obviously tourists come to resorts, don't they?

When I hear people talk about Travel (yes, important enough in our mags and papers to merit a capital letter) with
out reference to the human and geographical ecology of a place, I feel a bit surreal, like I've been transported to a Victorian text. I wonder for instance how the people of beach-side villages in Goa - who once must have been able to see the sea from their houses - feel about the sea view being a premium commodity now, accessible only to the privileged few.

I suspect it's just a matter of time before the rest of the village left near our resort sells up. Their resilience in the face of many offers makes them seem more fragile somehow... Our driver, for instance, spoke about how foreigners and other outsiders were buying up so much land that prices were escalating beyond belief. 'Goans, we were happy with small house and paddy field...' He seemed to imply that Goans almost sat back and watched the land being lapped up by others...

This was one level of feeling of course. Confusing me at the other was the sheer joy of being in a place where each sunset is a work of art. When people say 'painterly sunsets' they must mean those lurid shows put up by the beach and the sun and the sand at Colva. Seriously, it has to be seen to be believed - I mean, imagine a blue-grey sky lined with streaks of fluorescent pink! N enjoyed the sand with an almost devout fanaticism. She loved standing in the water as it pulled her - 'it's making me travel!' she'd shout. We'd be with her on the beach and keep telling her to watch the sunset and the huge, dome-like, pink-flecked sky, and she'd look up for a bit and then start her elemental sand-worship again. She found transparent, large-eyed crabs scuttling around and watched them in awe. It was beautiful, sad and then, beautiful again...

It made me feel that by bringing n up in a city we were robbing her of so much. Like my mom keeps talking about her childhood in her 'native place', and I think n wants to match up too. The only place she can think of with similar 'natural' attributes is goa. So the other day she tells my mom, "Goa is my netti place, and we have kolla-korzhies (water birds) there too." Try correcting her that a. it's native and not netti and b. it's not her 'native place'; and you are met with stern rebuttal!

Sigh, the eternal confusions of the liberal mind. Just aware enough to not be able to lose oneself and yenjaay, and too cowardly to actually do something about anything.