Friday, June 20, 2008


As a little girl staying with my parents in Kanpur, I was brought up in a typical Punjabi cosmopolitan family thanks to my father's career in the Services. As an Officer and a Gentleman, he was posted to various Indian cities, a piece of which we seemed to imbibe in our lifestyles. So, after a four year stint in Calcutta, my mother began to devour every part of the fish - eyes, fins, tail et al like a true blue Bengali. My Dad spent a sizeable time in the heavily British influenced Ambala Cantonment as a bachelor with an Anglo-Indian caretaker and Khansama taking care of his personal needs. The Khansama spoilt my father like hell and presented a veritable feast on his supper table night after night. So much so that my father had refined culinary tastes that my mother had to live upto and present, in her capacity, the best of mughlai, Indian and continental cuisine to him without fail. Thankfully, because Mum was an avid cook, this remained a happy demand on her and didnot turn into an ugly domestic battle between the two sexes.

But lets get back to my days in Kanpur, the heart or atleast the lung of Uttar Pradesh, if you really must argue that Lucknow (Kanpur's neighbouring and legendary city) was the real heart. Like I said, we soaked in the diversity, the culture, the habits of the locals and took away some in order to internalise them as our own. So, in Kanpur, we began going to the weekly vegetable Haats (weekly markets) and bought the fresh produce, meats and fish and ate a stomach full of our favourite Chaat - Aloo tikkis, gol gappas, papri chaat dished out from the chatwala's busy cart in the most unhygienic fashion. We also sat on tongas and Ikkas, celebrated Goburdhun in our large courtyard and enjoyed pre-diwali festivities with our dolls in a mud house built by Mom in the yard.

The other very-UP thing we did was getting attuned to the Crow's cry as he sat on our parapet announcing the arrival of a house guest. And if our comb fell to the ground after getting entangled in our tresses, we were bloody sure that the crow was a harbinger for the guest, who actually turned up on our doorstep the same day or the next.

And this brings me to the moot point of my discourse. These days I keep waiting for the crow to sit on my courtyard wall, to either steal some grains or cry hoarse about an impending visit of some distant relative. But the crow and his gang seem to be busy elsewhere. Mind you, I stay in a very green colony with the house surrounded by parks and overlooking a thickset of trees. But the sight of the crow eludes me. I don't think it is just me. I am sure you have noticed it too.

And then there are the mynahs. All through the school and college years, we used to go .......... one for sorrow, two for joy, three for letter, four for boy! Now, either we replace it with another bird or dump the routine entirely as the mynahs are not easily spotted.

Its monsoon time and anybody who comes from hill stations or valley stations like me, would say that we are or were used to spending our rainy seasons with frogs and toads. They stealthily trundled into our house hiding in corners or behind cupboards or under the beds, croaking at all odd hours and stubbornly resisting all our efforts to oust them. Cut to today and forget about Delhi, even in Dehradun, my hometown where I cohabitated willy nilly with these amphibians, I must admit that I miss them.

In my mother's home in Doon, I remember throwing grains out to the house sparrows - those lovely brown birds with their streaked backs. They perched themselves on the myriad trees in my mother's orchard-like backyard and scooped onto the pucca area where we had strewn the grains. Until a couple of years back, I found these friendly birds enjoying sunshine even in the tiny courtyard of my Delhi home. Alas, I haven't spotted them either this season or the one before or the one, a year earlier.

These are just some of the personal examples. A net search offers a report that featured in The Guardian and states; I quote, "Climate change over the next 50 years is expected to drive a quarter of land animals and plants into extinction, according to the first comprehensive study into the effect of higher temperatures on the natural world."

Another search throws up a mindboggling list of endangered species - tigers, walruses, polar bears, certain kind of fish, African penguins, butterflies, Musk deer, rhinos and a host of flora such as the prized orchids.

Another report talks about the horrific disappearance of glaciers and rivers, land mass and mountain ranges and forests .........

So what's happening? Is the man eating not only the crow (pun intended) but also everything else? Is the human gluttony devouring everything in sight? Is everything non-human being sacrificed on the altar of commercial greed at the hands of utterly selfish short-sightedness?

Perhaps until such time when Nostradamus' prophesies ring true and this Kalyug (bad era OR the fourth age. One in which there is lot of violence and falsehood. The current age is Kalyug. It started with demise of Sri Krishna) according to Hindu mythology comes to an end.

So who remains, when the big scale tips? Just man and cockroach or only the latter???


Kristopher said...

"You think man can destroy the planet? What intoxicating vanity! Let me tell you about our planet. Earth is four-and-a-half-billion-years-old. There's been life on it for nearly that long, 3.8 billion years. Bacteria first; later the first multicellular life, then the first complex creatures in the sea, on the land. Then finally the great sweeping ages of animals, the amphibians, the dinosaurs, at last the mammals, each one enduring millions on millions of years, great dynasties of creatures rising, flourishing, dying away -- all this against a background of continuous and violent upheaval. Mountain ranges thrust up, eroded away, cometary impacts, volcano eruptions, oceans rising and falling, whole continents moving, an endless, constant, violent change, colliding, buckling to make mountains over millions of years. Earth has survived everything in its time.

It will certainly survive us. If all the nuclear weapons in the world went off at once and all the plants, all the animals died and the earth was sizzling hot for a hundred thousand years, life would survive, somewhere: under the soil, frozen in arctic ice. Sooner or later, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would spread again. The evolutionary process would begin again. Might take a few billion years for life to regain its present variety. Of course, it would be very different from what it is now, but the earth would survive our folly, only we would not. If the ozone layer gets thinner, ultraviolet radiation sears earth, so what? Ultraviolet radiation is good for life. It's powerful energy. It promotes mutation, change. Many forms of life will thrive with more UV radiation. Many others will die out. You think this is the first time that's happened? Think about oxygen. Necessary for life now, but oxygen is actually a metabolic poison, a corrosive glass, like fluorine.

When oxygen was first produced as a waste product by certain plant cells some three billion years ago, it created a crisis for all other life on earth. Those plants were polluting the environment, exhaling a lethal gas. Earth eventually had an atmosphere incompatible with life. Nevertheless, life on earth took care of itself. In the thinking of the human being a hundred years is a long time. Hundred years ago we didn't have cars, airplanes, computers or vaccines. It was a whole different world, but to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can't imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven't got the humility to try. We've been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we're gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us." - Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

Aruna Dhir said...

Wow Kristopher. I fully concur with your point of view.

But that still doesn't redeem us of our sins and what we are unabashedly doing to our environment and our fellow beings.

The earth and the planet are beyond us and much mightier but do we have the right, not to be grateful and instead create havoc by our greed.

Whether in western sensibility or eastern spirituality, what Michael Crichton wrote is widely believed but as humans and tiny passer-bys in the great tide of time, we have no right to mess around the ecology and environmental forces.


Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with most of Crichton's quoted individual statements, but I am skeptical in the extreme of his logical linkages and resulting conclusion. If what he says is true, I suspect we would have found many, many more planets supporting life in a form similar to what the earth has supported over its planetary lifespan.

Life is indeed fragile. Crichton has an ideological axe to grind, and has cherrypicked data and anecdotes to support an idea. He has propped himself up as an expert when in fact he is not. And he lacks common sense, besides.

Let me offer a few of my own anecdotes:

(1) Destruction is always, always, always an easier and quicker process than creation and evolution.

(2) Destroying the planet and destroying life are two completely different events. One is a lot harder than the other. I'll let you guess which.

(3) It is not a proven fact that life would survive a total nuclear war. (The converse also holds, but who wants to test that theory?) It is a huge assumption (and a bit absurd) to go from total nuclear war to, "Sooner or later, when the planet is no longer inhospitable...."

(4) "Ultraviolet radiation is good for life." Yes, in measured quantities and in combination with an as yet unknown array of other physical events. We are still discovering what makes life work. To make any presumptions while apologizing for human progress is, simply put, stupid.

(5) If we are gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us. Life on earth, however, just might go with us. It is how we go that matters. We have only been around for a blink of an eye on a cosmic scale, but most catastrophic events happen on such timelines. And we, as a collectivized organism, are fast becoming capable of triggering such events.

The fact is that the lack of humility Crichton accuses the scientific establishment of having in its ecological research and advocacy is precisely what Crichton himself is guilty of. I find Crichton's logic as frightening as it is faulty.

But that is beside the point. We really must err on the side of wisdom and responsibility. If not, then we should at least err on the side of caution. What I see in these words is, "So what?" I think this perspective is the height of arrogance, ignorance, and idiocy. And I for one am willing for fight against it.

Air Wind said...

God is Great !! He knows more than all of us and plans faster than we can think and executes in nano seconds....look at changing weather / climatic conditions....He is doing His best to control MAN Made Damages...!!!

All is debateable, except Him. Lets have faith in Him and Humanity!!!

Anonymous said...

Your post was so long, that I could not gather the patience to read the whole of it. Yes, I thought there would be something spicy about eating the crow :-)

Anonymous said...

Air Wind, God also gave us free will -- and stewardship over this earth (if you buy into the scripture of the Pentatuch, New Testament, and Quran). The only thing worse than men who destroy God's creation are those who choose to do nothing about it.

You don't know what God's plan is. No human does. But you *do* have a free will. What are going to do? Are you going to abrogate your spiritual birthright of free will to those who would destroy what GOD created here on earth? Or are you one of those people who only cares about getting to heaven? Shouting God is Great will not solve the problem -- nor will it get you into heaven.

WAKE UP. Please.

Anonymous said...

Very nice Article Aruna!

Somewhere the life is a mystery and very all are to blame for suferings.

Mother earth is to be taken care like our own, says Amma.


Ravi Guria said...

I see many Mynas, Crows and sparrows in the morning wrestling and making desperate noises over our boundary wall to lay their claim over pieces of parathas that my sister has a habit of putting every morning. Therefore, I guess and hope that the situation is not so bad yet.
I believe, environmental problems cannot be solved on a war footing. If only we realise our responsibility and do our very little bit; however small it is; then it is good enough. Besides, there will always be all kinds of people in this world. And as long as we still have a few good men, then I believe there is hope. Otherwise, Tigers would have been long extinct by now considering the amount of poaching they had to go through in the last few years. If if they go extint, then they are meant to go extint; like dinosaurs. Afterall, it is the survival of the fittest.