Friday, March 21, 2014

The State & The Sea. And The State of the Sea


Crows are intelligent birds. All you need is a few minutes of your time and plenty of patience to observe the creature foraging for tidbits. I could do just that for a whole hour when I visited a popular beach in the Kovalam stretch on a mildly sunny Sunday morning in February. Several tourists reached the beach and set about such a routine - spread a beach towel or mat, leave belongings, use another towel to lightly 'hide' them, before heading seaward.
My subject crow waited in the wings, hopped down from a perch, stepped and jumped on the sand to reach one set of spread-out stuff, and  tilted the head to delicately peck at the covering towel to try and look for the right kind of stuff - if any - left by the careful tourists. Did I say I watched patiently? The crow beat me at that - he exhibited due diligence, patience and perseverance while looking for what he wanted.




 

 

But this post is not about this crow or any other. This is about a different kind of patience that both fascinated and shamed me. A family of three stepped into the water, each parent automatically taking turns at watching out for their young child, who would alternate between adding 'brick and mortar' to her sand castle, and playing in the shallow waves. 
This post is not about this child either. This post is about one of her parents.


Even as I watched the crow, the child, the tourists' (by-now familiar) routine (prepare spot on beach, wade into the water, wade out in a while, lie down to sunbathe), I could not help but notice that particular tourist - the parent - make several trips in and out of the water. 

Each trip back from the water saw the parent hold a short stick, with something hanging at one end, reach the adjacent rocky ledge (the ledge serves as the access to the Kovalam tourism police post) deposit the item, walk back into the waves, and repeat this sequence. 
In between trips, the parent forgot neither to help out with the child, nor to have the pleasure of wading and swimming in the waves. After all, that is the purpose for which many tourists make a beeline to tropical shores - to escape extreme winter elsewhere in our country and in the world. 


Back to the parent. I counted 21 trips. Then I gave up. Convinced that this parent cared for the child, and cared equally well if not more for the kind of world in which that child was growing. 
If one tourist can try to fish out rubbish from the sea trip after patient trip - all in the course of a brief morning sojourn to the beach - in the hope of trying to 'clean up' a portion of the beach to be used by the child, imagine the enormity of our individual and collective responsibility. 
We - each of us - have to stop dumping waste as we please
We also have to start cleaning the mess to which we have collectively contributed.

“Many of the fishermen here have been telling that recently, more than fish, it’s plastic that gets caught in their nets,” he said, pointing out that with more efforts on from various quarters to pump the city’s waste into the sea, shoreline fishing was being made a sitting duck for the ill-effects of all kinds of pollution, and not just plastic." [Quoting from  "A turtle’s tryst with waste" (local newspaper report dated 8 Feb 2014)]

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Stop the Cloning of Cities!

Indian cities have been trying hard at developing into clones of big cities across the world, and succeeding. (Aside: In the matter of solid waste management they are just clones of each other). Bangalore was a laid back garden city till about a couple of decades ago, even though it was the aerospace-cum-electronics hub of India. If we put together all the pros and cons of living comfort, standards of living, and quality of life, we will find that the present Bengaluru has unfortunately lost its overall charm.

We have let globalisation and technological revolutions invade our urban spaces and our mind spaces so much, and at too fast a pace, that entire sections of urban residents have forgotten to pause, look around, smell the earth, and think of whole lots of other people to whom globalisation has meant deprivation, more financial burden and regress.

An area of the city, 8 Jan 2003 imagery

Same area 27 Jan 2013 imagery
Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) is a uniquely endowed, endearing, overgrown village. But it is increasingly obvious that this city is also hurtling down the ‘progress and development’ path blindly, with foolhardy zeal and no imagination whatsoever. Think of the city 20 to 30 years from now: only more glass facades, more high-rise match boxes marring the green skyline, and humongous concrete masses looking down on snarling traffic, tempers adding heat to treeless avenues...

Mahatma Gandhi is said to have termed the city of Trivandrum as “Evergreen city of India”, blessed as it is with plenty of tree cover, and nestled on small hills between the Western Ghats and the coast.

It is evident that with globalisation, newer technologies and industries invade and take over / overtake the very thought processes of a city and end up thrusting a narrow concept of development. Prosperity and well-being of a city starts to be measured against such yardsticks as ‘world-class’ infrastructure and the upward mobility of city residents. The public have also been manipulated and steadily moulded to believe in advertised images and perceptions of what is desirable. The unnatural creation and projection of images of perfection and desirability by the media, advertising, marketing firms, and authorities who tout ‘global standards’ delude the masses into believing that their locality and the city will attain that kind of picture-perfection - if they have wider roads, bigger buildings, more indoor comfort and malls in which to ‘chill out’. (Parks and gardens aren’t ‘cool’ enough, you see).

If you stand on a stretch of MG Road, you can easily forget that it is MG Road, Thiruvananthapuram; it could be MG Road, any other city. Do we need that kind of development that swallows a city’s original character? Nearly all of India’s metropolitan areas and urban spaces have gone that way. Cities have expanded to encompass suburban areas and have become nightmares to residents and the already (mostly) clueless administrators. Delhi’s tentacles extend to several sub-cities, Mumbai grows into the sea leaving its heart far behind, Chennai pincodes have grown to 600117 and Bangalore’s now joyless veins clutch outer villages. Why is Ananthapuri being compelled to follow those models?

  • Heritage structures and rich, green spaces on Government-owned land should be left intact, preserved for posterity while possibly serving some public purpose.
  • All the remaining green and open spaces within city limits – precious few of them – should serve as well-maintained oxygen pockets.
  • We need to reclaim, revamp and take care of public places that had had grandiose plans bestowed on them by successive Governments.
  • Why can’t we - concerned city residents – play a role in defining our vision for the city, guided by the principles of aesthetics, abundant local wisdom, heritage preservation and Nature conservation?
In this context, it is good to note the introduction of programmes like the new Urban Design Master’s course offered at the CET, Trivandrum. Let us hope that such courses inculcate a holistic, long-term vision for cities. The budding future town planners should realize that there is much more at stake than the fortunes of the brick and mortar industry.

A city’s growth lies not in numbers of Big Retail, multiple ‘brandnamas’, outsize cars, cooler and swankier malls, but in the numbers of residents who feel proud and happy about the right things – health, clean air, welcoming public places, mind-invigorating outlook of fellow-citizens. We must preserve what is left of the city’s character. Even if it means calling a stop to mindless real-estate expansion and ridiculous numbers of car dealerships.

Shade - and shades!

Shade - and shades!

Lest we forget

Lest we forget

Think about it -

WISH YOU A RESOLUTION-FREE, CLUTTER-FREE, INWARD-LOOKING, LESS MATERIALISTIC, LESS POLLUTED, MORE EMPATHETIC, CONTENTED NEW YEAR