Did something new this morning – drove off to the beach – our own Marina – rather than come to work.  ALmost crashed the car – was such an unsual thing to do – mj going off track – just like that!

it’s such a beautiful morning – all storm clouds – layers in so many shades of blue-grey to mauve to cream on the edges where it looks like it just might clear in the next few days. Always wanted to go to the beach in a storm and so decided to just do it! ’tis just a couple of km from the office anyway.

The beach wasnt quite deserted – rained-on sand was grainy and wet, yesterday’s wrappers and malli lifted along in gusts. I dont know – it is supposed to be the second longest beach.. its a long walk to the edge.. across yesterday evening’s cricket pitch- the sand worn hard by unsung Ajantha Mendises and  Balajis – with tell tale holes for the stumps and scuffed footprints.  Holmes noted that there were no shoe treads.

ANd then the water’s edge – didnt step into the water – don’t enjoy that anymore – plus people were shitting. Lots of catamarans lined up, anchors and motors covered with wicker baskets. A chap sat on one of the catamarans. Good to be middle-aged, greying, small, non-descript female  – will almost always be left alone – mostly harmless.

The sea was grey-green and the sands deep browny-red.

Could have stood and watched the waves all day, like the chap on the catamaran – why was he there? Just sitting – stared at me for a bit then gave up. He was so easy on the worn, white logs. wish amma was here too.

Plenty of crabs on the sand – dont see so many in the evenings or maybe it was the grey day that got them out. They magically disappear when a crow swoops by and then come out again – sandy yellow but they were very visible today in the blue-grey light among all the litter and shit. Men were shitting all along – ’twas almost 10 in the morning but still..

Not too many ships at anchor – was a bigger storm coming? A couple of liners and a dhow – would give anything to be on that dhow – broad, flat, open with easy curving edges.  What a different world – the sea and ships and boats. Despite the long coast we Indians dont seem to really engage with the sea – coastal holidays – Goa, Kumarakom.. but as a part of our imagination of ourselves, of lived lives. Rivers are all over our psyche but not so much the sea – stretching away – a steely blue-grey today not green and dancing silver the way it is when the sun is blazing.

Heard the hoot of the mrts distantly. The city skyline was so far away – the road is actually about half a km from the water’s edge, i think. But with the sound – its not a roar – it’s a SHUSH-SHWOOSH-SHUSH – of the waves, the traffic and chaos seemed so far away. The mtc buses and suvs. when i was driving in and a sleek, pinky-grey verna menaced me aside, suddenly thought of them as dinosaurs. So strong and powerful and lethal – but how much longer? We’re getting all the biggies in India and Chennai – wide-bodied Logan (isn’t small and sleek more sustainable according to evolution?) But on the edge of the slope down to the waves, they all seemed sooo far away. A train rolled out out of the mrts station – looked completely empty.

Turned back to the waves.

And then walked back across the wet sand and hard cricket pitch to my little grey spook, looking smaller than ever beside the yellow jcb scooping up the laterite. They’re making the beach beautiful – huh?

So back to office and ac and gossip…

Should escape more often, i think. Escape my own burden of responsibility  hey who gives a damn anyway?

Neighbour Aunty came to pick her milk packets this morning and instead of the usual lamentabout her maid asked,”Have you got your TV?”

Tthe para (as they say back in the east) can talk about nothing else now. Large posters withpictures of party stalwarts were dropped into the mailbox and thrown into the porch aboutthe dates, times and locations where people could go register – get their cheeti as Jagadha said, to claim their free TV from the government.
“No” I told NA. “We already have a TV.”

“So what?” she said.”They’re giving it free. Why don’t you get it? Then you can give itaway. I’m going to.” And then, “D’you have an AC?”
“No,” I replied.
“Ummm.. but you had one didnt you?”
“Yes, long ago, When …”
“Anyway, get the TV,” she said and left.

That’s the buzz and everybody is talking the free TV distribution which has finally reachedour neck of the urban jungle. It’s a upper middle class ‘nagar’with more and moreindividual bungalows falling to 1+3 apartments, end-to-end concrete with space to park themandatory SUV and trio of sedans. Has it’s fair share of luxury cars too – not exactly thekind of place where folks need free TVs – more a hot spot for LED home theatres – in fact the cousin down the road quite cheerfully deafened us when demonstrating his newacquisition recently. And yet the free TV scheme has every body out and scrambling.

“You should get the TV,” was Mr M’s advice also when he came to collect the monthly rationsfor the orphanage. “If you don’t collect it, some one else will in your name.”
Ah, yes – moral imperative – to prevent the government from diverting the susbsidy.

He apparently had collected his. Appa feebly (you can only be feeble in a conversation with Mr M) quoted the rule that you have to declare that you dont have another TV.”I told themthe other TV was my son’s,” he said. Which son, i wonder – the one in Washington DC or the one in Geneva? “You can also say that this TV is your daughter’s and get one.”

Again Appa protested that it wasn’t right or necessary for the government to subsidise uswith a free TV. “Why not? you take subsidised electricity, dont you? It says so on the current bill,” Mr M said triumphantly.”Then why can’t you take this also?”

Ah, so logical imperative – all subsidies must be availed off. Never mind that a TV is hardly essential like electricity or clean water.

The watchman working on Reddy’s Folly across the road also advised us to go get theTV. “Big, big people in cars are coming and collecting their TVs,” he told us. “Have you got your cheeti at least?”

…So here’s the question – What is it about the Indian middle and upper classes thatanything free, any government scheme – no matter how pointless, politically loaded anddebilitating to the state must be grabbed and the grab justified? Even if we leave side the need for the government to distribute TVs anyway why do people who already have at least one, if not more, swank, hi-tech TV apart from SUVs and ACs and memberships to sassy gyms, need another one? Just because it is free? They all have to make false declarations, stand in endless lines in this summer heat and go through a minimum three-stage process to get – hold your breath – one small, 14-inch TV set.

And yet, you’re seen at best as an idiot, at worst as a criminal if you dont get your free,government TV! It’s freaking me out – the waste, the horrible middle class righteous smugness which can justify anything. Doesnt anybody see

a. the colossal waste to the state – even assuming no one made a killing on the supply andsale of TVs

b. The fact that most poor households shouldnt really need to spend that extra RS 300 everymonth to watch something on that TV – in a state where only Chennai with it’s  corporate  concentration is spared 5 hour + power cuts!

c. that access to a TV is not a necessity like access to water and electricity and healthcare – which the government must subsidise for the needy (again not the fat middle class). That a free Tv will not improve a single vital indicator – in fact may actually send literacy levels plummeting?

Why are the Indian middle classes -with their access to education, employment and materialwealth so stuck in a hand-out culture? The same class that will scream itself hoarse anddenounce the government’s free electricity to farmers (not the subsidised tax holidays toIT fat cats)and free bus passes to school kids, has no compunction in taking a free TV thatthey clearly don’t need and will not use. It matters not a pin to them that they have liedand subverted a government scheme (whatever its merits), that they have colluded with the government to rip off tax payer’s money that is meant to provide at least basic necessitiesfor all citizens like clean water and a decent education – the money for this scheme couldhave provided decent toilets with water for all the government schools across the state andprevented a plethora of infections…

BTW, has any MP or MLA built and maintained public toilets with MPLADS – will bet not one -clean toilets don’t get votes…Would love to know…

Chasing the monsoons..

The Indian monsoons are no where near reviving despite what the IMD and all the channels are telling us – even though it’s raining in Delhi – which is what matters for the nattering anchors and wise men (and Sagarika Ghosh).
Warnings of El Nino have been posted for about a month now yet the IMD continues to maintain this farce about a ‘near normal’ monsoon. What the channel chatterers don’t tell you (‘cos they probably don’t know it anyway) is that ”normal’  means +/- 20 percent deviation! Reuters has a fairly definite story today “El Nino seems all but certain: Australia” from the Australian met department. Business Line has had a few stories from US met people from Colombia University.
What is worse than the shadow play about the monsoon is complete absence of a larger discussion of the failing monsoons in the context of the environment, the sellout to the automobile lobby in India and the race downhill  ecologically. Why this refusal to join the dots? We must be the only country in the world celebrating the rising sales of cars and SUVs. You know i cracked uo the other day when TOI carried this self-righteous piece about how India would have enough energy if folks in the US stopped driving SUVs. I mean has this person stepped out onto the roads anytime recently and seen the swarms – locust swarms – of gas and space guzzling monsters on the roads or looked at the sales of these things and why Ford and Hyundai have launched there new SUVs here? We build sea links and elevated roadways to make space of these living fossils/dinosaurs- – of course they’re fossils – completely out of date and unsustainable — but no politicians/ media wise man can talk about decent public transport which will save us and the planet.

Well maybe not – you know, it’s so far gone now planting a few million trees and better transport will only keep us/our grandchildren gasping a little longer. So more buy more SUVs folks – do your bit to tip the system over the edge – after all cockroaches and locusts and ocean deep bacteria will survice and who knows, humans may evolve all over again and the IMD can spin out its forecasts …

OUtlook has a desperate cry from Gopalkrishna Gandhi  “Deaf to the Countdown”

lekin kown sunta he?

Well finally someone, someplace in the Indian govt labyrinth has woken up – and raised the excise duty on them gas guzzlers – SUVs and luxury cars – long, long overdue. But never mind, they did it now. But wait for the howls of protest on how it is going to hit the automotive industry, fastest growing segment and specially now, when car sales are falling.

Don’t go away while I get a towel for the tears!

It’s going to be ages before we catch up with the green consciousness – even at the level of lip sympathy. For at least three years now, all car ads in in the westerns press- have mentioned the CO2 produced as part of the standard specifications. I don’t know if this was mandated but Indian car ads have only now gotten to the stage of even mentioning the mileage(have you wondered how tough it is to say ‘kilometerage’!) Cars are still all about image, life style, the girl you got/getz and very, very gendered! I get two standard responses to my car – ‘I’m thinking of buying a second car for my wife so she can pick up the kids from school and tuition so…’ or else, ‘I always wanted to buy this car but my son wouldn’t hear of it!’ Of course, my unspoken response to the second set is ‘you weren’t really serious, just being ecologically correct’. So does a ‘small car’ mean you’re not macho enough while a hulking, petrol guzzling, road hog shows who’s BOSS?

And another growl: the CII had organized a ‘green power’ exhibition on renewable energy initiatives and technology here in Chennai. I remember seeing a nondescript ad for it a couple of weeks back, got all fired up and so we went along yesterday to check it out. It was the last day but isn’t that the best time for all trade fairs and exhibitions, when the crowds really come?

Well at the Trade Fair Centre, we first didn’t find this exhibition – the main halls had one on machine tools with paunchy firangs exchanging visiting cards. So we asked a security chap and were pointed to the convention centre and walked over. So where was the exhibition? Another guard pointed us in.

Some way inside the rather decently designed lobby was a banner and a list of exhibitors – impressive list that included a couple of insurance firms, but never mind. But still no exhibition and we asked a tired chap in a tie who was slouching out and he pointed us further in- ‘turn right’ he said. So we walked on and turned right. All this in the huge, granite floored convention centre all empty and echoing. And then we saw the kutti entrance and banner ‘CII Green Power’ and walked in.

And walked out about 10 minutes later – terribly disappointed and raging! There were just about a dozen stalls, most of them were packing up. Very few had any literature, flyers, contact details. The sullen chaps didn’t give a damn – some didn’t understand English or Tamil or Hindi- turned out they were from Kerala, selling solar generators. Sorry – they had no intention of selling anything. Another earnest visitor tried every question on the generators’ capacity, wattage… all to grim silence and incomprehension from the two chaps.

In terms of the stalls, all they had were solar water heaters and a couple of wind turbine people – Suzlon and Westas. Can’t we go beyond water heaters? Desultory solar lanterns with an earnest but not very bright chap explaining how long they would last. One was interesting – you could charge your mobile or play a radio but then again he didn’t know for how long.

And finally the government stall on renewable energy. Nice posters, nice guy but very little information! There was a small crowd of us anxious visitors looking at his list of initiatives that included solar cookers, home bio-gasifier units etc etc. So we asked and he said, solar cookers are not very popular in the south (have they ever asked why and tried to change that?). But I persisted and asked where we could buy one in Chennai. He didn’t know – somewhere in Monteith Road, he said. Name of the shop, I asked. Umm.. would I call him on Monday, he said, and he would have the information… And home bio-gasifiers wouldn’t work in the city – they were being promoted by local panchayats. And so we walked out of ‘Green power’, feeling grey.

The tired chappy this time invited us to a seminar/panel discussion on ‘Policy decisions for green energy initiatives’. I peeped into the hall – a whole bunch of guys in suits and ties and a couple of large screen TVs in the cavernous air-conditioned convention hall… yeah right!

That was it!

When the whole world is talking about the energy crisis – well okay, most media because it’s now ‘in’ to talk climate change and energy crisis, because oil prices are rising faster than a hot air balloon and ‘energy security’ is the buzz phrase… no body here gave a damn – not the exhibitors, not the people of Chennai. Just a handful of us fringe dwellers scurrying in to the most apathetic exhibition I’ve seen in a long time. Even the local media doesn’t seem to have covered the seminars and panel discussions – the serious ‘Hindu’ had just one story tucked away on an inside page. The more with-it papers would probably not touch something so dull with a telescopic, extra strength, imported barge pole.

Maybe we greens’ve got it all wrong and that humans as a species need to die out, die out pretty soon. Anu (niece doing a PhD in neuroscience) is convinced nothing will happen to the earth as a whole – humans will die out just as the dinosaurs and woolly mammoths did, but new species will come and life, which we will not know, will go on.

Okay.

So I’m going to go out and get a ‘zero down payment’, petrol-guzzling, extra premium luxury SUV and speed the human species to its extinction – never known for my patience anyway and can’t wait for this lingering, long drawn end like a bad book!

Quite fitting that the day after news of the giant Wilkins ice sheet/chunk collapsing in Antartica and the Greenpeace warning that Chennai faces disastrous consequences from global warming, two huge, old wonderful samania saman, rain trees should have been chopped down on Usman Road. I almost crashed the car as I turned into the road and saw them lying there – with the workmen with saws swarming all over the magnificent severed branches like scavenger ants on a carcass.

But we’re getting a new fly over so more cars can ‘fly’ around the city and we can become a world super power – I AM SO HOPPING MAD! And ready to weep!

And no one cares – none the newspapers in the city even care to report on it – doesn’t any one see things – can’t they join the dots?! It’s so sexy to join campaigns to switch off lights for an hour – you can still have your lap tops and ipods running on battery, sign online campaigns, make millions by trading carbon credits – let the west buy off its guilt – but no one seems to care about our own streets and backyards.

T Nagar in Chennai has been dying for a long time – and now it’s been choked and killed fast forward. All the trees on GN Chetty Road have gone – another fly over!! And many more on North Usman Road – development by/ of/ for the timber and construction mafia.

Whose city is it anyway – for the super rich with their farmhouses and retreats along the ECR or gated communites and condos, the IT brat pack that swarms a city like locusts before flying off to feed some place else, the old elite in gracious Mylapore – selling of steadily as NRI kids prefer flats they can rent out or the millions of poor who claw their way through everyday? Thoughtful piece on the unhinged nature of the Indian urban citizen in the Mint  by Ramesh Ramanathan -Our urban centres lack an essential rooting, an organic connection between the city and the citizen (http://www.livemint.com/Articles/2008/03/13000258/A-secondclass-citizen.html)

Run away, run away from the problem, pretend you just cannot see.

It’s that time of the year when our neighbours see red – well, flamingA badam leaf orange actually because our badam (terminalia cattapa) tree is shedding leaves. you just have to stand on the terrace for a bit and there’ll be couple of these beautiful orangey-red-burnt ochre leaves on you. Appa would’ve just swept the place and next moment a whole dozen of them will float down lazily – you can almost hear them giggle – but they’re not vicious – just playful and plentiful.

And that’s what makes the neighbours MAD – this year again they asked us to cut the tree down. Mrs Neighbour thought she’d come up with the perfect solution – ‘we cant sweep all these leaves everyday,’ she said. ‘So why don’t you put a net around the tree?’ The tree in question is round 40 feet tall and has a spread of 40 feet – at least over our house – it’s been ruthlessly pruned on the north – so it would’ve been some net.

Appa smiled weakly and walked away – normal reaction to all the tree-related interactions with neighbours.
And the tree continues to shed. It will do so for just another week – already beautiful, bright green young leaves have begun to sprout. Earlier the tree used to be bare for a round week before the new leaves took over but not this year – the young ones seem to be in a hurry and are not waiting for the old ones to fall off.
Of course the crib about the badam is nothing compared to the flak over the casurina in the corner – which is way taller than the badam and sheds brown, worm-like leaves by the tonne! And these are so light they float all over the neighbourhood and – yes – we’ve been told several times to cut it down. In fact one ‘nice’ lady came home with a chap to cut trees in tow. I would’ve set Cheekoo on them – Amma merely smiled and said, ‘No- we’re not cutting our trees.’ So more low-level conflict in the neighbourhood.
if only they’d wait – it’s just a couple of weeks or so and then the new leaves will come and all will be green and fresh again. All life is beautifully cyclical – old gives way to new – gradually and gently.
But the middle class-upper caste consciousness of cleanliness means no mud, no life – cement is clean – lots of it all over the place.
Why do people fear mud – that’s what we all are! But the city is clean if everything is paved over.

Vidarbha’s unquiet fields

These quiet, green fields of Vidarbha hide a burden of debt and a harvest of death that stalks districts of Yavatmal, Akola and Amravati.

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