One’ can make a difference

Parambir Kaur


THE worsening condition of environment, the fast depleting natural resources and ongoing talks about these gets overwhelming sometimes. And come to think of it, the greatest threat to it is from humanity itself — the most intelligent of all beings! So many suggestions are floated to improve it, or at least check its further deterioration. Of course, it’s a massive project and needs collective efforts on the part of governments and the people.

Reflecting over these issues, unfailingly makes me sad. One day, I was in the thick of such deliberations when a thought crossed my mind: ‘Each drops counts. Don’t expect only others to take restorative measures; just what are you doing to remedy and protect the environment?’ That did it! Before I knew it, I was making an assessment of my own little endeavours to save this planet.

I was happy to note that we had not burnt a single cracker on any occasion for the past many decades. I had sensitised my children about it while they were still very young. I invariably bury the organic waste of the house in our garden which also helps the plants thrive. I refuse polythene bags; carrying my own cloth bag to the market and the grocery.

Conservative use of water is another of my priorities. I use it judiciously and reuse it whenever possible. I have made the maid conscious about it. Gardening is my passion and there are many plants, shrubs and tree-like bushes in our house which are a haven for birds. The winged visitors feel quite at home, having the facility of water and grains on a daily basis.

I am aware about saving paper and thus conserving trees. I even store handbills that accompany newspapers in a separate paper bag to recycle them. I believe in the ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ maxim. Donella Meadows, a pioneering US environmental writer and author of Limits to Growth, has said, ‘Scientists worldwide agree that the reduction needed to stabilise the climate is actually more like 80 per cent.’

Electricity saved is electricity generated, so I make sure to never waste it. I do not use air-conditioners and have switched over to the eco-friendly LED lights. India is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, mainly on account of being an agricultural state. Being a vegetarian, I am contributing to the reduction in the production of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane.

Instead of using a vehicle, I try to walk to nearby places to run errands and do my bit to keep the air clean. I do not litter my surroundings in any way.

This exercise boosted my confidence, but I reckon that there is a lot of scope for improvement yet!

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One search, many finds

Upant Sharma


TWO decades ago, we had a butler named Dunichand at our home in Himachal, spinning across rooms offering his indefatigable services to our family. His simple persona swept through the hearts of everyone, and since I was the youngest component, his biased inclination towards me would raise the hackles of my elder sibling. The sudden transfer orders of my father to Punjab swept us apart.

Indelible impression of his unconditional love on my heart would, at times, force those sweet-scented past memories to rush to my mind, egging me on to meet him at least once. On query, I learnt that he would come from a far-flung village in Chamba district on Mondays and would dash back at weekend.

Having ransacked albums, I tossed a wornout photograph of him and me into my duffle and embarked on a journey steeped in nostalgia, anxiety and ecstasy. Somehow, I reached the village where an elderly man pointed to Dunichand’s home atop a hill. Weaving my way through the difficult terrain, I knocked at the door and an old lady answered with a smile. After a volley of sceptical queries about my identity, they offered tea and biscuits till uncle got home. He furrowed his forehead and studying the old photograph (I was now sporting a beard), took me in his arms. He was at a loss for words in expressing his delight.

They were edgy till I assured them that a simple supper would do, without any pretentious gesture to gratify me. A simple dal and chapatis prepared over burning firewood in the hearth warmed my heart.

I woke up in the morning to the sound of birds drawing me to the window. Flinging it open, I inhaled deeply a gust of fresh air — swinging rows of innumerable trees stretched to the horizon in a wavy pattern catching my eye. The inferences drawn back home about his poverty came to mind. His life seemed naturally royal in contrast to urban denizens confined to stifling skyscrapers. His house was situated at a commanding position on the hill and the lofty vantage point afforded a pleasing panoramic view of the landscape.

At some distance, was a long, narrow and deep river between two high cliffs, breaking the silence of the valley. This was his family’s chief source for drinking and washing. Their strenuous routine of walking up and down the mountain slopes kept them agile. Uncle defined his job as a menial worker at a home and spoke of their primary dependence on the sprawling meadows for food and fodder for his livestock.

Chucking out a truckload of presumptions about him and his family, my return triggered me to jot down a few things in my journal. Gigantic bungalows marked by a luxurious lifestyle might be the first pick for many people, but my heart now hankers for a simple, nondescript life without frills, especially around nature. Undeniably, my meeting with the true servant of nature escalated my thoughts to an unprecedented pedestal.

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Hoary narratives

Ratna Raman


IN The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock (1915), a somewhat diminished narrator poet, chronicles the history of the early 20th century in modern verse. Sporadically recording the experience of urban life in a post war world, Prufrock wonders ‘is it perfume from a dress, that makes me so digress’. Perfume can be distracting, especially in a poem that claims to be a love song, but the word ‘digress’ gains significance in the context of stocktaking amidst flux in a shifting epoch.

Poets in any case are required to conjure up word associations and need to digress (deviate from) from the central theme in order to establish associations that provide for layered meaning, in a world that has always been complex and varied.

The Wasteland (1922), to digress a wee bit, was written in the aftermath of WW I. Ironically, world wars were fought although large swathes of the world aided by developments in science and technology, had begun to move in the direction of progress, a word that rhymes with ‘digress’.

‘Digressing’ from notions of perceived advancement and success, a century later, TS Eliot’s poetry continues to raise questions that examine our understanding of human progress (advancement). Through references, his poetic ‘digressions’ enable the reader to traverse across cultures and traditions, while recording losses, personal and spiritual, that litter the modern wasteland, i.e., our world.

In many ways, Eliot’s poetry reminds us that ideas of progress, when projected as linear and unidimensional, remain simplistic. It fails to take cognisance of the composite and heterogeneous past that has shaped human civilisation over the centuries.

The anxieties Eliot voices continue to be relevant to our times. We seem to be in danger from a selective ‘eschewing’ (shunning) of several Indian traditions by the State. Such a perspective cannot be viewed as ‘progressive’ (rapid advancement). An inclusive polity, sensitive to India’s multi-layered traditions and histories, must remain the order of the day.

This would, for instance, require protecting our green belts, forests and monuments and actively monitoring the disposal of waste and effluents into our rivers, not merely through declarations that rivers constitute living entities.

Protection and nurture of our natural environment and cultural heritage must exist alongside implementation of social justice and fairplay for the poor and vulnerable, irrespective of religious and social standing.

‘Repressive’ (authoritarian) notions such as the need to control women in order to prevent their energies from going astray are ‘repugnant’ (unacceptable) and must be expunged from language and memory.

Selectively upholding unexamined tenets amounts to ‘repression’ (suppression). Such ‘deleterious’ (causing harm) practices are tantamount to ‘regression’ (return to a less developed state) and hinder national progress.

Aggressive stances alienate less privileged groups, minorities and women remain ‘repressive’ (restraining personal freedom) in nature.

We need to listen to our poets and our storytellers and pay more attention to narratives that digress while plumbing through realms of meaning and complexity. A myriad literatures reaffirm that a happy ‘polyvalence’ (multiplicity of meanings) forms the bedrock of progress.

A tiny possibility of an ‘egress’ (exit) from this volatile situation exists. Dimunitive seedlings of collective solidarity, compassion, forbearance and generosity of spirit can be seen ‘straggling’ (trailing). May these little stragglers grow sturdy roots and shoots, progressively transforming lives.

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A rotten apple & some happiness

Shantnu Tandon


I WAS in Lucknow and India was in the midst of historic demonetisation. People had money but were finding it difficult to buy their material needs. I was on the streets hungry and cashless. I entered a restaurant, but they were not ‘cashless’ yet. Hunger was pushing me to despair. Luckily, I found an ATM with a handful of people lined up. A few minutes later I was cherishing my prized possession, my first ‘purple’ note. I went back to the restaurant, only to be told they didn’t have change.

Disappointed, I was on the road again, dotted with eateries. I asked the owner of a small eatery if he would feed me, sheepishly showing him the note. To my pleasant surprise, he took the avatar of Annapurna and welcomed me, ‘Sir, don’t worry, you have food. I’ll get it exchanged.’ I was utterly grateful.

It was a humble but clean eatery with only three-four tables. I ordered the most expensive dish, hoping to compensate for the restaurateur’s gesture. But still the bill was less than Rs 200. I started eating happily. There were two-three adolescent waiters, enthusiastically serving the guests with youthful energy. But their eyes were sad.

After a while, I saw one of the boys bringing something from the street. He hurried inside trying to hide it from the owner’s gaze. It was a half-rotten apple. As soon as he reached the rear of the eatery, he quickly ate it.

Did his parents ever feed him affectionately with their hands? Did he ever go to school? He was working day and night, just to survive. I had a strong urge to give him a parental hug. More than money or food, he must be craving for some love. How often this soul was made to feel loved? I was moved beyond words.

After eating, I paid and got the change. The boys were busy serving and did not hover around for the tip. I wanted to give, but only a reasonable amount, not wanting to make them feel small by over-giving. I left with a resolve to come back.

It was not about money, it was about making them know someone was thinking about them. In the evening, I ate at a place which accepted online payment. I had not forgotten the boy. I wondered if I could buy some happiness for us both. I bought a few chocolates and went back. It was dark and the owner was busy with the evening rush. I peeped inside, but could not find ‘my boys’. I asked the owner, who called out for them.

My heart skipped a beat in excitement. The boys came out a bit surprised. I offered them a chocolate each, gave them a quick hug and left. They took it with a sheepish grin and hurried inside clutching it in their hands.

On my way back, I asked an old man pulling a rickshaw if he would like a chocolate. He grinned, exposing an almost toothless mouth. I gifted chocolates to random people on the street, toiling to survive honorably.

And yes, I did ‘buy’ some happiness that evening.

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Hell twice over

Gursharan Singh


THE news that about 134 candidates have applied for the position of VC at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, and Punjabi University, Patiala, was amusing. I recollected an incident that happened a decade ago.

It was a Sunday afternoon, I was with a retired Central government administrator who also happened to be a former VC of a reputed university. We talked about the weather, the traffic, and subsequently, about the declining standards of education vis-a-vis the functioning of our VCs. My host was concerned about the eroding autonomy of VCs, for which he held both the politicians and VCs responsible. Even the effervescence of tea could not calm his anger. Suddenly, he smiled and narrated a joke someone had told him when he became VC.

‘A man dies and on the basis of his deeds on earth, a lower court of Dharamraj sentences him to five years in hell. The man, an educationist, protested and approached the higher court, but failed to get any relief. He consulted lawyers but all doors seemed closed, except one ‘rarest of the rare’ — a personal audience with Dharamraj which was an uphill task. He, however, managed to seek a meeting, and on D-day, was face to face with the mighty Dharamraj. After a thorough scrutiny of the case, Dharamraj pronounced with an air of finality, ‘See you in hell’.

Dejected, the man started moving out, when suddenly he was ordered to stop. ‘By the way, what was your profession on earth?’ Dharamraj enquired. ‘Your highness, I served as VC for two terms, each of four years,’ he answered with folded hands.

Hearing this, Dharamraj was furious and asked the man to sit comfortably. The judges of both courts were summoned immediately. With fire in his eyes, Dharamraj rebuked them and questioned how they could send a person again to hell, when he had already been there for eight years as VC! The man was escorted to heaven by fairies. Some judges were asked to seek premature retirement while others were transferred with a demotion.

Both of us laughed loudly. But on my way back home, I wondered if it was merely a joke. All prospective candidates for vice-chancellorship, including me, need to take this joke seriously.

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Long for Kashmiriyat to return

KL Noatay


RECENTLY a bus of Amarnath yatris was involved in a cooking gas cylinder blast near Anantnag. Local youths went all out to rush injured pilgrims to hospitals in their own vehicles. The gesture made me nostalgic about Kashmiriyat I experienced during my heyday, decades ago.

During 1966, I had opted for the Central government’s forest survey to assess the quantum of green wood in the country — on government as well as private lands — for the optimal utilisation of resources. Topographical sheets and aerial photographs of the Survey of India were available for indoor table work and field checks. We, in the northern zone located in Shimla, were required to cover the Shivaliks and the Himalayas. J&K was to be covered on priority, starting from the Valley.

A senior conservator, Capt ES Das (retd), a soldier-turned-forester, was our zonal coordinator. In those days, J&K was as peaceful as Himachal. Nevertheless, while moving us to Kashmir, he hammered two important precautions to adhere to — do not discuss politics and do not get provoked if asked by a Kashmiri when you had come from Hindustan. He permitted us to drape ourselves in olive green fatigues, instead of the khaki usually worn by forest officers.

Being a hill-man by birth and up-bringing, I used to be allotted the most difficult sampling points. That allowed me the privilege of having gone to the inner-most dales and ‘margs’ of Kashmir. Unarmed soldiers, we found Kashmiris extremely kind and hospitable.

One day, our sampling point fell in the thicket above Gandharbal. We were leisurely climbing the open hillside to approach the thicket to collect samples, not knowing what was going on inside the grove. Just as we entered it, we heard women shrieking. Soon a bevy of some 10 young girls, throwing their wood-cutting tools, darted out and dashed towards their village, as if some wild beasts were about to pounce upon them. Apprehending the possibility of a serious outcome of the girls mistaking us for marauders, I called off the day’s survey work and climbed down towards the habitation where the girls had headed. I assured the village elders that we meant no harm to the girls who had panicked on just sighting us. They asked us to relax.

In another incident, while we were in a forest above Tral — logging a big pine tree for form factor analysis — one of the logs slipped out of our control and hurtled down the slope. A few days later, we were told that the log had hit the cattle grazing on the slope, killing one instantly. The villagers could have made our life miserable, but their large heartedness saved us any embarrassment.

How one wishes that Kashmiriyat returns not only to the Valley, but also globally, once again!

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Burden of a favour

KR Bharti

ONE day I happened to meet on the Mall a former colleague who had just retired from the service and found him in a cheerful mood. “What makes you so happy, my friend?” I asked.

“Sir, I have been given re-employment by the government soon after my retirement. His Excellency, the Governor of Himachal Pradesh, has been pleased to appoint me as officer on special duty (OSD) in a significant board for a year,” he said with pride, pulling out the orders from his pocket in confirmation.

“Oh, that’s excellent indeed! Only the competent and the confidants of the government get extension in service or re-employment,” I said, feeling happy in his happiness.

After exchanging some more pleasantries, we went our separate ways. Two months later, I met him at the Ridge and again found him beaming with happiness.

“You look very happy again! What pleasing news do you have to share today?”

“Sir, I am no longer in the service. The Governor has been pleased to remove me from the assignment,” he broke the news to me without a frown on his face.

“So early! I can’t believe it. What happened?” I asked a little surprised.

“Hardly had I dug my heels into my new assignment, when the Chairman of the board began asking me to do things which did not fit into the rules and regulations of the board. When I could not oblige him, he showed me my place thus: ‘Mr, I was the one to recommend your case for re-employment even though there were many other competent officers in line. And now you have the temerity to show me the rules! Did I show you the rules then? It is give and take, my friend’.”

“Didn’t you try to win peace with him?”

“I tried but he was not prepared to listen. He had his own axe to grind setting at naught all norms. I didn’t wish to carry the burden of obligation by doing things that neither fit into the rules nor into the dictates of my conscience. It is better to live with pension than to live with tension, Sir. I politely declined all the unpleasant demands thrust on me. In the next few days, the Governor was pleased to truncate my services. I could not save the job but I have saved my conscience,” he said.

“So, you have no regrets for losing your job?”

“None at all. Our services are at the pleasure of H.E. the President at the Centre and H.E. the Governor in the state. This is what we call the ‘doctrine of pleasure’ enshrined in Article 310 of the Constitution of India. Like these dignitaries who maintain ‘pleasure’ both at the time of appointment and dismissal of a person, why can’t we maintain our poise in both good and bad times? The pleasure of H.E. is guided by the Constitution whereas we need only to invoke our conscience for our pleasure,” he philosophised.

I was impressed by his persona. I found in him a true stoic of the Bhagavadagita — the one stirred neither by joy nor by grief. At the same time, I learnt a lesson that favours are not without their burden.

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