Sunday, October 26, 2008

Towards making the existing model obsolete

In the page immediately after the contents of A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-Tuks is the Buddhist adage “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly.” I knew right away that this was going to be a different kind of book. A book that showed

1. an awareness of the problem
2. creative and yet practically sustainable solutions to it.

My introduction to the environmental crisis happened in grade 10. There were a couple of questions on the climate change and ozone depletion. Definite questions which would fetch you 10 marks. As I saw it then, there was nothing much I could do about the reducing the rate of ozone depletion except to convince the examiners that I knew the processes. The equation was so simple and for all practical purposes, the ozone hole became my favourite topic.

My curiosity regarding environmental management shot up when I saw An Incovenient Truth. To tell the truth, I felt a lot wiser but strangely uncomfortable. I needed to know more. Suddenly terms like genetically modified food, ozone hole, climate change, biological warfare etc. started acquiring a sinister meaning.

From the way I look at it, a book that tries to address environmental issues should essentially

1. Give the real picture of the crisis in a language that a layman can understand
2. Practical ways and means to address them both at the local/global level
3. Real life experiences to prove that living in harmony with the environment doesn’t necessarily mean uncomfortable living.

Rory Spower’s book is an excellent instance of environment awareness in daily life. As he narrates his experience of creating an organic farm in a country torn apart by natural disasters and civil strife, we accompany him on a journey to create a more self-sustaining lifestyle.

There is no problem without a solution. This is exemplified in his attempts to address the need for comfortable yet ecologically sustainable living. Is he joking? NO. He proves that this is possible with a few modifications to the design and structure of of our living areas.

Electricity? Spowers tells me that I can generate enough power in my own backyard and stop depending on the unpredictable power grid, or fuel my living expenses with diesel. From what he says it appears that it is also possible not only to recharge a laptop but to address all the electricity requirements of a household using solar power.

But what about the costs involved in designing and restructuring our living space in a manner that would preserve the biodiversity and promote sustainable lifestyle? Spowers does not simply throw statistics at us. When he calculates the cost of this kind of sustainable living and the savings and the profits that can be generated out of it, we can see that the man knows his economics. Sample his narration of the Doc Man’s life style [Chapter 3] and his own attempts at building his domicile in a cost-effective manner.

Colin, the doc-man hits the nail on the head when he says that ‘the only way to reverse the situation was to bring economics and ecology back into synergy, to apply ecological truths to our corrupted economic thought and make it beneficial not only to all human beings, but all forms of life.”And this remains the effort of Spowers. Combining ecological and economical sense in designing a sustainable lifestyle.

The best thing about the book is that it is not just mere narration, but narration backed with research, experiences and most importantly, a tinge of humour. And when it ends, you have the ‘highlighting of the horrors of our predicament with respect to various apects of our life’ along with the ‘initiatives, projects and technologies that give us a cause for hope.’

And it was this section which caught the interest of my curious mind which was in search of knowledge about the fuel consumption by vehicles, genetically modified food, the effects of pesticides, the impact of the pharmaceutical industry, so on and so forth. Here Spowers blows apart many myths about the role played by the developing technologies in creating a sustainable and peaceful life. According to him, they seem to be directed only along the capitalistic lines and the generation of profits with scant regard to environment. He does manage to make his point here.

The final solution apparently seems to be in education. Right type of education which would enable us to be informed beings living in harmony with our environment rather than machines living in isolation. For which the ‘illusion’ of us being separate little selves rather than a ‘manifestation of one universal and absolute self’ has to be removed.It is on this affirmative note that the book ends. One of the quotations used in the book remained in my mind for quite sometime is:
"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

And to make the existing model obsolete, we need to understand our own roles both as a part of the problems and the solutions. But for that mere concepts, models, and theories alone do not suffice. You need to have your heart in the right place. At the end of this journey of exploration, discovery, challenges, minor/major victories, minor/major defeats, the point really driven home is that there is no problem without a solution. To make the existing model obsolete, you need not only need a new model, but also your heart and mind in the right place. That remains the USP of this book.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Life throbbing in my hands.

It was a tiny creature, almost the size of my palms. Slowly, with love and care, it had learnt to fly. But it made a point to return to the hands that had nurtured it. My palms were but a temporary refuge and the creature slept before I realized. It did not peck, it did not protest. It perched comfortably in my palms and took a short nap. If it had lips and teeth, it would have given a smile of contentment. But the closed eyes were enough for the adequate expression of the feeling. Softly, I stroked its head. It did not flinch. I patted it, snuggled further into my palms. For five solid minutes, life was throbbing in my hands. In the silence that surrounded us, I could feel the throbbing heart of the creature. It sounded just like mine. The bird was small, much smaller than me in size and much more fragile. But the heartbeat was the same. No wonder it felt so contented in my palms. A short walk we had together, the bird and me. As I approached the end of the corridor, the caretaker stepped forward to take the bird. Gently, the bird changed hands. Yet again, it did not flinch or protest.

Life was throbbing in my hands,...for five minutes.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


[This post was originally written in 2001. During those practice teaching days, I had a diary in which I used to pen down my daily sob stories and all the varied stuff that used to come to my mind. This time when I was at home I rediscovered that diary and the original post. Made a few cosmetic changes and there you go,...]

A flight of stairs is an interesting sight. I was sitting in the lobby of a Primary School awaiting my turn. I had just completed my final sessions of practice teaching and a post-mortem was going to follow. Not a very pleasant frame of mind I should say coz when I use the word ‘post-mortem’ I mean it. So picture me sitting there feeling like a gladiator being thrown to the lions [okay make that a female version of a gladiator, whatever!] In short, I was feeling condemned. Anyone of you who have done practice teaching here would know how exactly I felt. Good place to see teaching and learning in practice.

So, picture me sitting there, lost in gloomy forebodings. If I may be permitted to use a hyperbole, lines from Ode to Dejection were playing around in my mind. Suddenly there was this deluge. A swarm of small boys blitzed down the stairs on their way for lunch. The accompanying acoustics and the dynamics of their movement jolted me out of my intimations of mortality and I was hooked.

One took the easy way down. He slid down the banister with faint concern to life and limb. Few others took the hint and followed suit till a stentorian warning from a teacher discouraged them. One came down on an imaginary chariot, encouraging his imaginary horses to gallop faster. Another budding singer timed his descent to the hallowed school prayer, which he sang aloud with energy and gusto. Didn’t care a bit about the wrong timing though.

Another came down, whistling like a train, leading a coach of boys behind. One would-be philosopher came down, lost in thoughts and consequently stuck to the wrong route till a friend took the initiative to direct him onto the right path.

The best, of course, was the chap who decided that the world had no choice but to listen to his wailing. He made his way straight down the stairs, crying all the while. He walked up to me with tear stained eyes and demanded ‘Where is my Mamma? I want her!’ I was left clueless. The whole idea of the post-mortem was ejected as a mind that used to dwell on Eliot and Yeats and theories of criticism suddenly started racing furiously in searching the answer to the eternal question – HOW TO MAKE KIDS STOP CRYING? Maybe we got some short term solutions along the way. But convincing solutions? No. My idols offered no way out and all the theories of psychology and behaviour that I had studiously learnt as a part of the paper on Educational Psychology had not prepared me for this kind of an eventuality.

I had a brainwave. I dived into my bag and retrieved a chocolate. A chocolate that was supposed to be all mine after the ‘post-mortem.’ The reaction/response time was instant. Three things happened in an order that I couldn’t quite figure out. The wailing stopped, the chocolate disappeared from my hand and the kid ran away.

Truly glimpses!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Celebrating sloth with coffee!

Okay you may think that I goofed up royally by arriving at the airport five hours ahead of the flight. But you are mistaken. It was a calculated move on my part and I had my reasons. I had missed my flight once before due to a combination of reasons [divine intervention and self created] And I was determined that history was not going to repeat itself this time round.

I parked myself in the Departures Lounge all the time being pursued by the watchful eye of the policeman. He had looked at me quizzically when I showed the ticket. So there you can picture me. I saunter into the departures lounge with a sleepy visage [I had only managed a few snoozes in 48 hours]. Remember I told you that I didn’t want history to repeat itself. This time it would have been something like me being in the airport sleeping peacefully while the flight took off sans me. And guess what, I don’t have trust this airline. I don’t want to make any allegations and instead would settle for an instinctual suspicion.

The best thing to do was to order coffee and read a book. I had a book on transactional analysis, but the time and the place and more importantly the distinct possibility that I might sleep on it encouraged me to search for greener pastures.

I found the usual fare of best-sellers in the bookshop, all prominently displayed. Ludlum, Coelho, Chetan Bhagat, Amitav Ghosh, Sidney Sheldon, Robin Cook – all those gentlemen made their presence felt. Understandably, there were a number of copies of the book ‘The World is Flat and Fried’. I had almost decided to make my exit coz there were no copies of Wodehouse that I had wanted when I noticed ‘IT’. If books could talk, then probably it would have screamed, ‘Check me out!’ Tucked away in the corner was a small blue book that no one would have noticed. It was geographically disadvantaged.

Written by Wendy Wasserstein, Sloth is a nice mix of humour, parody and satire. Taking well-aimed potshots at self-help books and various practices that claim to make lives better, she apparently proceeds to present a case on how sloth can actually contribute to a more self-fulfilling life. Now it should be no rocket science to the reader as to what Wasserstein is actually hinting at.

The question is why Wasserstein had to resort to such an ‘antimethod’ of celebrating sloth to present her case. It is quite easy to discern the note of irony in the following statement: ‘Come on, wouldn’t you like the royalties of whoever wrote the South Beach Diet? It makes a lot more sense than, say, writing poetry, academic criticism, or – god forbid – plays. Those things take genuine work, and the monetary rewards are generally not commensurate.’ Wasserstein dabbled in the third.

The implications of the statement ‘You have the right to be lazy. You can choose not to respond. You can choose not to move’ are actually relevant in a very positive way and trust me it has very little to do with sloth. It has also got very little to do with can possibly be termed as sloth by ‘shallow people.’[I am really tempted to give some names here. The attention seeker in a place I know who smacks of xenophobic tendencies and who has contributed in a major way to what is currently discussed as ‘urban terrorism’ by CNN-IBN is a good example. Probably the personality would make a positive contribution by not doing anything. And does it need to be added that the world abounds in attention seekers? [See, the irony is already working on me.:)]

And when we accept that we can choose not to ‘move’ or ‘respond’ the implication by default is that we are the choosers. At one stroke the concept of freewill and fate are negotiated and you arrive at the epiphanic understanding that you decide on the quantum of happiness/misery in your life. The key, as I saw it, is not to take life too seriously.

Suddenly, I spilled coffee all over myself. Hot coffee. I ran and was promptly pursued by the CISF guy. As he approached nearer, he realized the predicament I was in and directed me to the ladies restroom. And as I came out, the sales guy at the coffee centre offered some paper tissues. I could feel the embarrassing stares of people. The way out? – I smiled. I smiled at the fact that I had arrested attention by making a fool of myself. When you know that sound and fury is not going to help, probably choosing ‘not to move’ helps. I continued with the book.