Maverick: Green with Ennui
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, July 10, 2007
How would placing a few cabbage leaves on my breasts communicate any message to the world other than the fact that I do have a bosom? Or how does putting someone painted with tiger stripes (they don’t ever simulate less attractive animals like the one-horned rhino) behind a cage convey the pain of trapped beasts? To be honest, I find it rather erotic. Environmentalists and animal rightists bring in celebrity endorsements and turn what might be a genuine cause into a farce. Rats! Did not the Great Pestilence occur before global warming was even heard of and “man-made changes” had not wreaked havoc?
Environment consciousness confuses me completely. Merely talking about the virtues of human manure is senseless unless the external factors are controlled and there are fewer conflicts. Many beach resorts nonchalantly have the remnants of their guests' digested culinary indulgences floating in the sea. The fish, in the course of their hunger pangs, may imbibe more than the prescribed diet. Therefore, this is supposed to be bad for us. I don’t understand. Why is something that gets into our system through trout bad and through spinach good?
They tell us not to use plastic/polythene. So we have little bags made from newspaper. More confusion: How many trees are cut to produce paper? The squishy vegetables soak in the newsprint in an attempt at upward mobility. We may wash them as much as we want but have you been to a sabzi mandi? The precious greens are in good company. The handlers are sleeping over them and mongrels are even taking a nip and spitting them out.
Then they want us to promote greenery. But we have to wet the soil just so, never mind that each plant type, like humans, has specific needs. It is to save water. This makes me squirm again. I am the regular sort who needs to flush the loo after use and if 13 litres of water go down the drain what the hell am I supposed to do?
They tell us not to use air-conditioners. However, if we don’t, then in big cities there will be an estimated release of air pollutants like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, lead, lean metals and carbon monoxide assailing us.
I know this is not much help to people who are working hard at doing something about the ozone layer, deforestation, poaching, and wastes. I do have a nice side to me. I recycle paper, never keep the tap running while brushing and use water from boiled vegetables to cook, switch off the lights when not required.
One can do one’s bit when one can control the environment. But do not ask me to use a tea cup instead of Styrofoam glass for my chai in a public place. Don’t expect me to go around closing all taps in airport toilets.
Environmentalists, like politicians, target the group they know they can get the most out of. They tell us about regular emission checks while taxis, auto rickshaws and buses spew noxious fumes and the traffic cop suddenly wears blinkers.
They give us stickers about water wastage to educate us but the Sulabh Shauchalyas are spared.
They tell us about natural insect repellents when the farmers are using chemicals.
Even though less than half the available land is put to use – the other being wasteland – rural areas are spared environmental spiel. The villagers are seen as natural protectors even though they chop trees for firewood, enter forest areas for grazing cattle, waste water for new-fangled irrigation. For every tribe that worships the black buck instead of Salman Khan, there are ten others for whom a feast is relentless killing of several species.
In urban areas there are too many practical needs and problems to surmount. How can we insist that a lower middle-class person use cotton fabrics when it is expensive and difficult to maintain? How can we insist that people segregate their garbage in small flats when there is not enough space for a garbage bin? Recycling requires macro level handling.
This rash attitude without adequate knowledge can be exceedingly harmful. For example, if we are not to use pesticides and instead burn dry neem leaves in a closed room, the least that can be done is to inform us about the precautions to be taken. Some over-enthusiastic idiot may start a small fire. And without proper guidance there is the danger of asphyxiation. And all so that we can save ourselves from malaria?
Of course we are happy to note that mosquitoes and other such wonderful creatures of god are a boon to our environment. If someone up there decided to create these pests as a matter of creative expression, then s/he better let them roam in the Garden of Eden. I also suspect there is a lobby that is making handmade paper and natural fibre into a marketing gimmick. They are pricey and difficult to rid of as they gather dust and insects. We don't need these constant reminders. When I get my lovely Fab India kurtas in a paper bag only to find sneaky creepy crawlies on them, I really don’t care about their valuable contribution to the top soil.
The best way to do something for the environment is to let Nature do the balancing act. The fact that the cockroach has been around longer than us and will survive us should tell you something about how right I am to preserve my ‘mortal remains’.