On Water and Profit

The Gadgil Committee report in 2011, headed by the famous Indian ecologist, Madhav Gadgil, was criticized for being too environment-friendly.

In Goa, every Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report submitted by iron ore mining companies provided false information about the hydrological impact of mining.

Some people I know were stranded on rooftops during this past week’s flooding in Kerala. My friend’s grandmother, uncle and aunt went missing for a few days. My district, Idukki, was the worst hit, although for some miraculous reason, the small town where my house is situated was almost unaffected. Tourist destinations like Munnar lay in shambles. The multiple resorts, granite quarries and mines had left the mountainsides devoid of enough vegetation to retain topsoil during rains, leading to landslides that snowballed into avalanches of soil.

Most towns, cities and villages have turned into little islands, cut off from each other and from the rest of India. Although the cities of Kochi and Trivandrum are not too badly hit, water and electricity supplies have been cut. Power cables would electrocute people if they fell in the flood waters and water pipes that broke under the pressure of floodwaters could not be repaired at those depths. Airports are shut, train services halted and roads destroyed, and right now, my parents say it is like waking up from a war: the worst is yet to come.

I helped organize donation drives in my college hostel. But at the back of my mind, it keeps nagging me, the fact that we are sending them food, toiletries, essentials all packed in plastic, and then bundled together into ‘care packages’ again tied together in one plastic bag. Plastic is what we spew into the oceans. And during the flood, the rivers regurgitated all the waste that we threw at them. In areas where the water subsided, you cannot see the clay that you would normally expect after a flood, you see a carpet of waste, of plastic bottles and bags and utensils and toys; you see nature giving back what we gave it.

After the floodwaters subside, the state must deal with the spread of waterborne diseases that have already begun their advance, and the rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of people whose homes have been destroyed, not to mention cleaning up, restarting transport operations and reorganizing agriculture.

When the cyclone Ockhi hit the coasts of Kerala last year, little press coverage was given to the lives of the fishermen it had affected. People mentioned it in passing, but fishermen are far away from the humdrum of city life, their existence was barely acknowledged, their sufferings blamed on themselves. The Syrian Catholic churches said that since the fishermen were newly converted Latin Catholics, they were not obliged to help them, it was a case that the Latin Catholic church had to deal with on their own. During last week’s flood, it was these very fishermen who have been, and still are, rescuing people, regardless of the nuances of Catholicism and religion, from places the army cannot reach with their advanced rubber boats, which are too light to withhold the force of gushing floodwater. The fishermen, used to navigating the harsh seas in their dinghy wooden boats, are skilled at maneuvering through the waters to reach those who need help. One fisherman laid in the water to act as a bridge for people to walk on from a rooftop on to his boat. To call it heroic would be an understatement.

We ignore nature in the same vein we ignored these fishermen. We talk constantly of increasing our material comfort, of buying our mothers expensive bags and our fathers expensive yachts, of one day being able to join the mile high club so that we can laud it on instagram. We fail to realize the blip that we are in this world, this universe. In the flood relief camps, both rich and poor alike live together, both rich and poor alike have only the clothes on their backs and nothing else. Maybe the rich have iPhones to call their relatives with, but what difference does it make when the telecom provider is the same, when the clarity of the call is equal. They are all eating the same rations now, suffering equally now. Would it change their minds in the future? Would they be nicer to the less fortunate once they have their wealth returned to them? Maybe, maybe not.

Gadgil warns of the likelihood of a similar situation bound to arise in Goa, where mining and ‘development’ are paving the way for potential monsoon-related disasters. No one listened to him in 2011, no one is listening to him in 2018. Personally, I love both these states for their natural beauty and laid back way of life, and the thought of one succumbing to the other’s fate has me in a state of horror.

I talk about climate change a lot on social media. My area of research is in climate modelling. It’s for a reason. It’s because I realized, not understood but realized (and yes, there’s a difference, believe me), that we can’t take nature for granted. Capitalism is the antithesis of nature, it’s a perpetual cycle of infinite greed fueled by a conscious ignorance of real world consequences. If we don’t rethink our current system, and I mean the whole socio-economic system that praises profit, we cannot avoid digging our own grave.

For the past few years, my parents have been on a path of self-sufficiency. They are attempting to go entirely ‘off-grid’, self-reliant when it comes to food, water and energy, and for the most part, they’ve succeeded. But the years when we were transitioning from the materialist culture served to us to this path of being one with nature, we faced a lot of opposition and skepticism. I remember a younger me being occasionally angry at them for not conforming to society’s standards of what ‘wealthy’ should look like: where was the big SUV and the massive driveway? Why were we so far from shopping malls and clubs? Where were the gyms? Eventually I got used to, and began appreciating, their lifestyle and their choices. We barely depended on companies or the government to provide us with the major resources you need for life. The barren land we bought had been converted into an oasis of flora and fauna. I felt like we had built our own resort and we were, and are, truly happy thereEven now, it amazes me to think of the progress they made but on the outside, to society, their progress was next to nothing, and it is this culture of profit-mongering that irked me. And it is this culture that has been failing us time after time.

It takes a lot of courage to go against the tide, and that’s what most people lack. I think that’s what allows the tide to wash over us. Let’s hope that this is a lesson learned, and when my state has to be rebuilt, let’s hope we build around nature, instead of over it.

 

 

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Questions the cat can’t answer.

What does it mean to experience? Do some live the moment better than others? What qualifies as better? Is the ability to experience well, a talent like the ability to dance or write or sing? If someone is able to feel the moment, appreciate the situation and enlighten himself through it better than another, does he deserve the circumstance more than the latter? Can he be thought of as more deserving because he is more adept at feeling, internalizing, learning? What constitutes experience? Is it measured on a scale of individual betterment? And if a person feels more than another the pain and tragedy of the situation they’re in, does he deserve it less or more? Who will award the deserving? Who has the right to? Do we have a right to claim the depth of our experiences as our accomplishments? Will they ever be understood the same way if only heard as a recount? How do we measure the depth of experience? Is there even a need to quantify it? 

Why Creatives Prefer Solitude

I saw an interesting question on Quora today and I decided to answer it. The question was “Why do creative people mostly prefer solitude?”.

My answer:

There are two reasons why they prefer solitude:

  1. Because most people are not their kind of people. If you look hard enough around you, you’ll find that there are two kinds of people: those who like to think and those who don’t. The latter prefer to be fed information from whatever mainstream (or non-mainstream) sources they choose to follow without contemplation or questioning. They do not like to do research on any topic on their own and are generally loud and overbearing. Some might kindly refer to them as extroverts but I don’t believe all extroverts fall in this category. An example could be the pompous old neighbor and his wife who think they know what’s best for you and are convinced that their opinion is always right. If you don’t know any such people, you are either very fortunate or you have not lived on this planet long enough. The former category of people, the ones who like to think, are extremely rare and hard to find in most parts of the world, save some. They can be called intellectuals but they could also just be curious individuals who like to question and find out facts for themselves. I think this is where most creative professionals lie: they like to stretch and exercise their brains and they do so through their art. That is not to say that they are not skilled at logical subjects and sometimes some of the best scientists are also very creative people. As the number of people in this category is limited, most creative types are surrounded by folks who are not exactly the best company one would want when one yearns for creative or intellectual discourse and this makes them seek out solitude. Creative people like to learn about their craft and how to hone it. I think you would find that a sculptor, painter or musician prefers to learn from a master of their art rather than stay in solitude. But as long as a creative person does not feel challenged by the person they are speaking to or does not feel like they are gaining new information, they will soon lose their tolerance and seek some ‘alone time’.
  2. Because you need to be alone with just the sound of your inner voice.Ideas are formed in our minds, and the process of thinking requires utmost concentration. This is especially difficult to do when you are surrounded by other people who, no matter how much you like their company, will eventually cause you to sacrifice that undivided attention you need to give to your thoughts. When you are alone, you are most free to actually be yourself, to be comfortable in your own skin and shed any pretenses. This is what fuels original creativity, the liberty to be and to think.

Let me know if you have any counter-points to mine or any points to add. This is purely from personal experience and observations and I do not intend to vouch for the creative community as a whole.

2Q17: I learned

I learned about magnitude. I learned that there are problems I need to solve alone, that no one else can solve for me even if they tried and there are problems which I can never solve alone, no matter how much I try. I learned that in order to solve the big problems, you need to solve the little ones first, especially the personal ones.

I learned what is important to me, what I want my life to be about. I want to fight climate change and save the environment because I have seen with my own eyes the true wonder of nature. You can travel the world and you can go trekking in all four corners of the globe but you can still not have understood what nature is capable of. You need to watch plants grow, you need to see how humans depend on them, you need to see the love between animals, something a lot of us lack. You need to live it, you need to be a part of it.

I learned that touring is different from experiencing. People visit several places, they sign up for all the guided tours and book all the cruises, but they come back the same as they were before they went. They come back exactly the same but with more material possessions. They go places and see wonders that humans created but they do not want to understand or interact with the humans who built them.

I learned about inter-dependency; how globalization veiled inter-dependency by offering us means through which we don’t have to know who created the things we use. I learned how this is dangerous.

I learned about loss and how we grieve it. I learned that animals grieve too. I learned that true strength lies in acceptance; that maturity can be measured by how fast we come to terms with events that shake us. I learned to emulate the Bhutanese; death is a part of life, and we have no reason to not joke about it as we do every other part of life.

I learned that a little humour goes a long way.

I learned that materialism is the key to misery. When you are able to sustain yourself and be happy living on the bare minimum, then you realize what sustainability actually is.

I learned that love can mean different things to different people and that’s okay. I learned how to build a fortress around my heart and why that’s not a bad thing.

I learned that there are different truths: the truth, the official truth and personal truth. The second is a half-truth, used by most governments to brainwash their population. The latter is the truth about your life experiences, your beliefs and your thoughts. Do we have the right to lie about our personal life if it does not impact other people? It is a question I am still contemplating the answer to but right now, I believe we do, but only if it does not affect anyone else’s life.

I learned that consistency is better than a few strong hits amidst several misses.

I learned to cherish the energy and enthusiasm that youth brings.

I learned the meaning of the word ‘home’: it’s much more than a place or a people and it can’t be identified purely from someone’s passport.

I learned how to write less but more; less words but with more meaning. I learned to appreciate the nuances.

I learned that the world is twisted; that it all boils down to power, not just money. So I learned to stray away from the mainstream.

I learned to discern lies, to question everything and when to speak out.

I learned most about the climate; or my lack of knowledge on the subject. I learned that we have crossed several tipping points that we shouldn’t have in our goal to stay below a 2 degree Celsius increase in temperature. I learned that it’s too late. But I also learned that being realistic is the best way to adapt and that sometimes, hope is the mask of fear.

In 2017, I learned to not plan out 2018 because life will come as it wishes anyway.

Undone

Come undone for me
Don’t tell me that you sing
sing me your loudest secrets
your softest pieces

Come undone for me
Don’t tell me that you dance
dance me your stories
dance them one by one

Come undone for me
Don’t tell me that you paint
paint me your mind’s sunrise
and your heart’s sunset

Come undone for me
Don’t tell me that you cook
cook me your fondest memories
your mother’s best, your father’s first

Come undone for me
Don’t tell me that you think
tell me things that make me think
tell me riddles, put my mind in a maze

Come undone for me
Don’t tell me that you sin
Rid me of my qualms
Rip me apart and sway me

Come undone for me
as I undo
the threads
of my soul

Unsocial Media

You give your mind to influencers

you weigh your worth in follows

you sing for your unsung heroes

and for those caught in the throes

of choosing between selling art

and artfully selling.

You see them turning the corner

seeking the fame bubble

whilst around them

the earth turns to rubble.

You join the stage

crying for the spotlight

in their popularity theatre

are you any better?

And when reality hits you

like a meteorite sent from above

will you be able to leave

the billion shadows

the million stories

the thousand uploads

the hundred likes

the ten pings

the fake you?

 

 

Art?

I went to see the only Biennale in India yeserday, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. I’m writing this now while my memory is still fresh and my neurons are still reeling from whatever hit them. I had gone in 2012 for the same event, which was the first ever one of its kind in India. That had been more pleasing than this although I’m not sure whether that’s because we were a little exhausted from the journey yesterday to begin with. The only questions that still baffles me are: What qualifies as art? And who defines it?

Some of the exhibits were amazing. You could see the sweat, blood and tears, the sheer passion, perseverance and deliberate thought that went into making them. But those existed as only a handful. Most, frankly, were disappointing. Or maybe that’s just me. But here are a few of those that upon observation, did nothing to impress me and upon reading the description, left me more in love with whoever wrote it than the artist himself.

A giant sphere, about 3m in diameter, made of concrete and housed in a room. It tapered to a smaller area on the other side of the entrance to the room, so it looked like a giant concrete egg. The description was beautifully worded. I understood none of it, at least not in relation to the ‘sculpture’ I was staring at. The workers we hire have built several concrete structures for us. I’m sure they’d be done with a giant egg in no time. Give them a guy who’s good with words to craft an artsy essay about the egg and they’d be living as rich a life as the artist behind this. But then again, who appreciates those who make things that we can put to practical use anyway? Builders are not artists, right?

An enormous flat slab of rock placed in a hole. That was the underside of a crater. The artist wanted to show what the underside of a crater looks like. Because..someone cares?

A ‘light box’ experiment. This won the prize for most creepy artwork ever, if you can call it that. Life-size pictures of dead bodies in various garb, before they began decomposing, illuminated in light boxes, hung on the walls. At least this one made me think; what in the world made the artist want to hang pictures of dead blokes? But what  a genius. A 5-second crazy thought process leading to a disturbing idea, a few days of work and to label it art, well, it sells. He’s probably laughing it off at some beach in Mauritius with his buddies who are more alive than his subjects.

Some nude (very badly drawn) doodles. For some inexplicable reason, the art and wannabe-artsy community have always prized nudity. Ugly dicks and saggy breasts. In that case, a nude picture of my grandparents should suffice as ‘expressionism’, should it not?

Random shapes on paper made with newspaper cutouts and framed. As an ensemble, it exuded an air of antiquity. Upon closer inspection, each one looked like the work of a second grader. Another mastermind at work here. Give your girlfriend’s elementary class kids an art and craft project, a lot of glue and cheap newspapers to set their minds and little fingers loose on, and voila, you have art handed to you. Age them with coffee stains and lacquer, frame them, hang them all on a wall and make your writer-friend come up with a long, snotty description that leaves people feeling like it’s their fault for not understanding how this is a masterpiece.

A few dusty tiles on a concrete floor with some corners of the tiles painted in white or blue. It was meant to be a play on light. A white screen with a lamp shining on it. Because observing how light falls in the comfort of your house on your furniture and clean tiles is not artistic enough, obviously.

Another light experiment. This time, dozens of glass light bulbs hung in a room with a black background. At least put in some effort for crying out loud!

There were lots more in the same wavelength but I’ve named the ones that really put me off. It was, as are most modern art exhibitions, a collection of the works of eccentric and eternally high folk who, for lack of a better term and because they do not behave like madmen in social settings, society decided to label as ‘artists’. For all I know, we’re all artists in our own right. I remember reading a news article about a 4 year old somewhere in America who threw paint at a canvas and it earned her millions from an art collector.That, when there are millions of children who could actually paint much better than her, starving in various corners of the world. It left me indignant for a long time but I guess that’s when it started dawning on me that the world’s full of crazy people. And it’s they who define what ‘art’ means and it’s a definition that I disagree with.

I’ll leave you with a picture of the light bulbs. All the works I mentioned look substantially better when seen through a camera held at a specific angle and with an attempt at good photoshopping thrown in.