Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Shah Rukh Khan took a fistful of earth from his village as he left for America, in the Hindi film Swades. Each time he looked at those grains of sand, his heart twisted in agony at the thought of the land and people he had come to love.

As we watched the Taj burn in Mumbai, our hearts felt heavy with sorrow and anger. We cheered lustily when the Indian tricolour was unfurled after the ordeal. The Taj had been reclaimed; it was “ours” again.

Inanimate rock and stone seem to evoke such strong emotions within us.

This planet that we live on, nothing but a mass of rock and liquid, has perhaps evoked the most poignant responses in our cinema and literature. Bhoomi Devi, Dharthi Maa, Mother Earth . . . we serenade her with a million names. She is personified as the all-knowing feminine principle; so nourishing, abundant, magical, quick to heal and always quick to forgive.

Perhaps it’s the first time in the history of mankind that this image is changing. The Mother now almost seems like an irate adolescent. At times happy and willing to please, at other times crying for attention and spewing spite. Severe famines, torrential rains, freezing winters, floods and tsunamis . . . she has used them all to tell us of her anger.

As Mumbai burned and we hung our heads in despair and shame, what we chose to see was only the Taj burning. It is easy to identify with a city, a people and share their sorrow.

Our planet is in peril today. Every day a part of it goes up in flames, some parts are plundered and looted, her children persecuted to the point of extinction, her face ravaged by greedy hands. And this time the perpetrators are not some “foreign hand”, but so called well-read folks like you and me.

Several trees have bled for that luxury terrace apartment that promises a slice of paradise in the middle of a city. People are dying of starvation as land marked for agriculture now sport huge Business complexes. The earth is riddled with wounds as bore wells look for that last drop of water. There are no more sparrows in the city of Bangalore where I spent my childhood. We managed to kill them all, slowly but surely.

Who will rush to the rescue? Where will the victorious flag be unfurled? Who will be arrested and interrogated? These are inconvenient questions, for the answers are embarrassing. Perhaps the plot that will be unraveled will be far more sinister, and as self-defeating as the ones hatched by these gullible 21 year olds who believed they were working for the betterment of their kin.

The air conditioners that are so essential to keep us cool and comfortable, the million lights that make a city dazzle at night, the vast opulent restaurants that guzzle water and food, fuel that is used by our third car that we could do well without, the “Tiger Project” we study purely for “academic” interest, the cloth bags we will use only if they are fashionable, the Diwali crackers we burst because that’s what we are “supposed” to do on that day . . . .

How gullible we all are! How easily we have believed the lies fed to us.

How tragically we have been taught to associate Prosperity with Wealth.

There is an African proverb that sums up the illusion of progress so beautifully:

“A bird that flies from the ground onto an anthill, does not know that it is still on the ground”

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