Monday, 8 August 2016

My thoughts on our "age of derangement"

I am currently reading The Great Derangement- Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh where he analyses climate change not just as a physical phenomenon but as a cultural, psychological manifestation of human need and greed. He delves into history to study the inevitability of arriving where we are today - he develops on the oft repeated argument that it is not correct to say that developing nations like India and China are solely to blame for  climate change summits today becoming non-starters. Nor is it correct to say that the phenomenon of unsustainable carbon footprint is the legacy of western civilization alone. Rather, and strangely he argues, that had it not been for imperialism and the rise of colonial powers, vast swathes of land would have already been under water today; that imperialism was a good thing because had it not been for the exploitation and plunder of developing nations by Britain, France, Spain etc, these (former) nations would have been industrialized long ago and would have caused havoc much earlier in time. But then, as mentioned before, it was and is only a matter of time. The fatality of his conclusions are a bit depressing (and I must admit that it caused me to pause somewhere a little over mid-way - so this paragraph is based only on a reading of two thirds of the book).

This has got me thinking of how unsustainable our day to day lifestyle is. This is obvious for all I suppose but I am thinking of actions that are beyond the evidently harmful activities like the fuel guzzlers we drive to work, the enormous industrial wastes we empty into our rivers and ground water etc. Instead I am becoming more painfully aware of the more innocuous actions that contribute to the carbon footprint. The deliciously long hot showers I enjoy, the shampoo bottles I toss aside when it's over, the plastic wrappings on the food delivered to work, the bubble wrap on the frequent online shopping deliveries that I indulge in...the list is endless. I cannot change overnight, but I can delay the inevitable by a fraction of a millionth of a second. So last week instead of the usual 100 millitre of hand sanitizer I frequently use, I just bought myself a big bottle (fewer bottles discarded means less waste generated). I am hunting for this new thing called dry shampoo - never seen it before. But even if I don't find it, I am seriously thinking of going back to soap for hair (heck no amount of my fancy shampoos will help my poor hair - let me at least not generate more plastic waste). And that is what people did till the early 90s in India anyway. I am currently on a short vacation to Shimla where the hotel insists of serving mineral water (reading water bottled in plastic). And each member of the staff attending to us has asked me why I return the bottles from the room and the table and instead ask for regular water in a jug.  And I answer, what's the big deal about these plastic bottles of water anyway? What's wrong with regular water served in a jug that does not pollute the environment? I doubt much of this registers - but they politely oblige the tree hugger in me. But no- I am far from being a tree hugger. And I shamelessly take a dip in their indoor heated pool. As Ghosh points it out in his book, we are way beyond individual efforts to save the environment. What we need is mass concerted efforts mobilised through state power to make any kind of impact. All I am doing is ameliorating my conscience - to a degree at at least.

I have also been thinking of the quirks of the people of my parent's generation, people who lived through the birth of a new nation with near empty coffers, no sizeable industry, no jobs and an economic policy that aimed at letting everything be owned by the state in an effort for equal distribution and to build a self sustained nation. [A noble effort based on the insistence of Gandhi to build a self sufficient nation. In hindsight, these policies may not have been implemented too well (I will not go so far as people like Gurcharan Das who claim that such policies were bad, especially in light of what the financial crisis has taught us).] But the result of all this was penury. Lack of simple material things that we the people of the 90s and onwards take for granted. I was fed on tales of how my mother had a grand total of 3 frocks when in school and only one doll to play with. Or the only toys my dad had was a fishing rod he built on his own and sticks he used as bats to play cricket. Neither my mother nor my father were poor - at least in that day and age they were urban middle class with the greatest wealth of all - access to English medium education - the ticket to jobs with the government (the largest employer in those days - based on my assumption only).

My mother obviously told me about the simple life she and her siblings she had to obviously drive home how privileged I am. But the truth is, no one in that society in Assam in the 60s and 70s had much more than what she had. And both my mother and father vehemently agree that theirs was a happy childhood. The habits formed in the simplicity of those days has lingered on in all family members of that generation. My mother still mends clothes that are ripped multiple times instead of simply discarding it like I do. My mother-in-law lovingly scrapes the last - literally the last grain of rice from the vessel and puts it on our plates and licks the last drops of dal from the spoon used to serve us at the end of the meal. I can see the shock on my parent's faces on days I go for retail therapy and come home laden with bags of clothes and shoes that I do not wear more than a couple of times. They on the other hand carefully count the change (little coins and notes that really have no value today) they have and put it aside in a separate pouch to accumulate and then painfully use it for some of their shopping requirements. My father is way past 60 and still insists on driving long distances instead of taking on a driver as I insist he does. If at all I insist too much he simply boards a public bus or train. But the idea of shelling out more money simply to take things easy is abhorrent to him.

Yes, I belong to that generation that has known easy money and the consumerist lifestyle. And only because I am located in India is my lifestyle not as wasteful as my counter parts in the west. In the one year I spent abroad I realised that people take things that are easily available so much for granted. For instance, a couple of years ago I lived through one painful week in the Delhi summer when the taps in our building ran dry. I learnt my lesson and till date, while not being parsimonious with my use of water, I am careful to shut the tap when not using it. But while in London on more than a few occasions I saw friends carry on conversation as they paused on their dishes or washing without turning off the running taps in full flow. It made me cringe. As did the ice bucket challenge that took social media by storm a couple of years back. I also cringed at the casual manner in which leftover food would be discarded instead of keeping it for later. And who the hell has heard of cabbages having a shelf life? I mean as long as it's not visibly rotten, vegetables can be eaten right?

In India, fortunately, despite our privileged upbringing ('our' and 'we' unfortunately refers to an urban middle class society only), we all are painfully made aware of the have-nots. The face of the hungry people begging on the roadside intrude on our bubble like existence that privilege affords us, as does the sight of the perspiring  manual labourers in the harsh Delhi summers. As a result, (and I speak for at least a fraction, if not more, of people who are privileged) we are conscious of the quantum of waste of resources. I am a tad bit more conscientious about not letting water run even in between dishes being rinsed (ie instead of letting the water run while I scrape a dish I just turn it off) or shutting off the AC and the lights and fans when not in use.

But as mentioned before, my meagre efforts are worth next to nothing. We are, as Amitav Ghosh puts it, living through the age of derangement and inexorably approaching self annihilation. I wish it were possible to imagine a less tragic denouement to this book. And that's the reason I struggle to complete it.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Musings on 2014

As the cruel winters gives way to what promises to be a grueling and unforgiving Delhi summer, I look back on the last six months with some interest.

While the days seemed long, the last half of 2014 was over in the blink of an eye.

Settling into a new job, I have learnt to re-think transactions in a whole new light. Working in my new team is interesting, engaging and challenging. Then my team was also relocated out of the big office in south Delhi. What we have now is more reminiscent of my cozy previous firm - a smaller office with only 3 teams (as opposed to the grand old south Delhi office with its 20 odd teams), an awesome cafeteria with a wonderful view but AWFUL parking (!!).

Then the family began to give my poor old parents some trouble. Things had reached an impasse and litigation seemed the only outcome. Till AB stepped in and counselled my parents on the way forward. While I am capable of giving legal advice too, it is AB's 'people skills' and solution oriented approach that saved the day. While things seem under better now, we will know for sure only around May.

AB and I have had a few set backs - intense disappointment has followed. But AB's positive attitude and ability to see the big picture boosted my morale. My admiration for the way he takes all adversity in his stride and just pushes forward has increased manifold. It has taught me also to dismiss all the set backs with a shrug, swallow my own heart burn and look at the big picture while focusing on the positives.

I began 2015 with the worst hangover ever. I feel terrible about it. I was unwell for two entire days. The first day of the year and I could only barf at the sight of food and think - no it hurt my head to even think - vaguely promise myself - NEVER EVER EVER NEVER AGAIN. It was an awful start to the new year. I need to accept the reality of diminishing capacity. And just how much more comfortable I am sitting cozily with close friends in someone's living room, nursing a drink through the evening and having interesting conversation over loud music and inane banter with people I generally would never speak to.

All in all, I feel intensely hopeful about the future. I have seen a dear friend emerge from the worst period in her life last year with so many good things happening. Only because she focused on all the positive things life has to offer. I am so happy she is finally with a person who worships her and got the big break she has been looking for. I saw another dear friend, break up, then make up and marry - all in the span of 6 months. 

I have made new and rather unlikely friends, have discovered the joys of slipping into bed at the end of a long work day, watching re-runs of Downton Abbey and Homeland and sipping red wine. And have been wondering why on earth have I never picked up a Haruki Murakami all these years??!! 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Let's catch up and let me tell you about Cornwall ;)

Each time I open the page to blog it is with a much has happened between now and the last time I blogged. There is no real excuse other than procrastination. Well most of the time. Yet now, I am well and truly busy. Each minute of my day is accounted for. I never knew I was capable of this level of efficiency.

To summarize - after I came back from UK I was busy applying for jobs, preparing for interviews (oh so many rounds of them) and well...just chewing my nails between the interviews. Net the end of a gruelling 3 weeks I landed a job. And less than a month after my return from UK I joined my new job at a law firm. Ahhhh...the perks of being in a big firm. In the new firm I have to heat my own lunch, get my own coffee and fill my bottle at the water cooler on my own. But on the other hand there is a valet who parks my car and brings it around for me in the evening, an in-house salon and clinic, a paid service to run errands etc. Yet, I missed the friendly cosy atmosphere of my previous firm. Here my team has a lot of work, people come early, work non-stop for hours with a ten minute break to grab lunch and then on till about 9 PM. I am easing into this schedule - and I have impressed myself with the quantity of work I get done each day. I can actually put in more than 8 hours of billable work each day (while in my old job I stayed in office for about 12 hours - I could only put in about 5 hours of billable work!!)


Before all that becomes a distant memory I need to record my trip to Cornwall. I did not go to visit the beaches - though they are lovely. I had imagined that part of the world through my childhood as I browsed through dusty books in the club library, as I day dreamed about the blue-green of the sea and loneliness of the meadows.

I booked a bus ride from London to the quiet sea town of Penzance. I was quite taken aback when at 6 PM, in broad daylight, there was not a soul in sight in town. Apart from the local Co-operative all shops were closed. I had been told google maps was not entirely accurate in this part of the country. So I relied on a print out of the route to the YHA that I had the foresight to carry with me-since now I found that there was not a soul in sight. The YHA was on the other end of town and the road took me through deserted neighborhoods and across a motorway and through a glade.

Making my way through town 

Quite an eerie road for a first time traveller
After checking in, I decided to take a walk about town. There really was not much to see. And well I felt lonely. Solo travel is hot. But not in a place like this with nothing to do. After wandering around town I headed back to the YHA where I chilled in the lovely lounge. There were quite a few people sitting there watching the match. No one so much as glanced at each other or exchanged a smile. All quite putting off I thought. I helped myself to one of the books kept on the shelves and flipped through it till I fell sleepy enough to crash.
The next day was better. At breakfast I shared a table with these two gentlemen who had been travelling around Cornwall for the previous 12 days. They happily gave me their maps and told me places to visit. I then packed my backpack and headed to the town centre to take a bus to Land’s End. I walked to the bus stop where a bus came by every hour. That’s when this cute boy approached me and requested if I would hold a poster with him for a video he was making to propose to his girlfriend in China. I happily acquiesced and we got a lady who was also standing at the stop to take a picture. 

I wonder how his proposal came along ;)

The three of us got talking and turned out we all were tourists who had stayed the night before in different hostels in Penzance. The girl – Jay – and the boy Quinping Deng were headed to Porthcurno. Jay and I chatted about her blog and her travels. Deng told me that he intended to walk from Porthcurno to Land’s End. I decided to join him – since it sounded so much more adventurous that simply taking a bus. But first to Porthcurno…the local open top bus was a delight. It took us through the green lush green country on that sunny morning. 

The bus ride from Penzance

Jay, Deng and I walked toward Minack theatre all the time exclaiming about the beautiful environs. Porthcurnno was absolutely beautiful – with its clear green waters and blooming flowers. 

Jay in the corner - too bad I do not have a better picture of the two of us - although  I distinctly recall posing for several!!

Note the shadows on the sea bed

Walking toward Minack Theatre

The beach at Porthcurno

Porthcurno was absolutely lovely – with its clear green waters and blooming flowers. I decided to skip Minack Theatre and instead Deng and I headed out on the walking trail to Land’s End. It was a sunny day and soon became fairly hot. Our phones did not have any signal. My backpack was rather heavy and soon I realised I was rather overdressed for the day. But for an impromptu walking trek of almost 3 hours, I managed fine. And the sights and sounds were exquisite. The green of the cliffs and the blue of the waters beneath were bright in the May sun. The trail was lonely and the grandeur of the beauty around me made my heart full. There were secluded beaches for the more adventurous tourists to enjoy. And I kicked myself for not having carried swimwear. Of course Deng asked almost everyone we met to pose with him for his video and I dutifully clicked his photos. We chatted about this and that – exchanged pleasantries with other travellers and drank in the sights around us hungrily. It was one of the most perfect days of my life.

Yup - quite over-dressed

The trail along the cliffs

I am glad I decided to walk to Land’s End because once I reached there I saw there was not much to see – just a commercial monstrosity in the midst of all the beauty. I had a train to catch from Penzance to St. Austell that evening. I dutifully reached the Land’s End bus stop to take the bus back to Penzance. As luck would have it, I narrowly missed the 3 PM bus and the 4 PM bus broke down. By the time I headed out of Land’s End it was almost 4:45 PM. And the next train to St. Austell was now at 7 PM. 

The train ride to St. Austell took about 30 minutes. By now I was used to the loneliness of Cornish towns. I called the landlady at the bed and breakfast I would stay for the night for directions and made my way to the establishment. I had this beautiful room - all pink and white which offered a view of the sea in the horizon.

So pink and white and pretty!

I had been enthralled by Rebecca as a teenager. I had my heart set on visiting some of the sights and sounds that had served as a muse for Daphne Du Maurier. St. Austell was my base for this. I started out early next morning into the picturesque town of Fowey. None of the houses where Du Maurier lived are open to public. So after gazing for a while at the last home that she resided in, and where now her son lives, from across the river I decided I needed more. 

Ferryside House

I had not travelled this far to just gaze at that house. I had been told Menabilly Estate, which is Manderly in the book is not open to the public. I nevertheless, decided to take a walk as far as possible around the estate. Another hot summer day, this time a walk on a narrow road leading out of Fowey towards Par, which really was not meant for amblers like me. I politely turned down offers for a ride - partly because I was not quite sure where exactly I was headed. I let google maps guide me towards Menabilly. The countryside around me was lush green and the sky a bright blue. As I approached Menabilly I realised that there was not much I could see of the estate. I propped myself on the side of the road and simply gazed out at the sea across the green fields that I presume was the view that Du Marier had as she wrote. I can only imagine what Manderly is. But the surroundings were beautiful in their abundance and colour.

A lovely summer day in the countryside

It was almost noon by now and I decided to head back to Fowey. I was hungry and wanted some good food before taking the bus back to St. Austell. While the walk from Fowey to Mennabilly had been pleasant enough, by now it was really hot. Plus, as I mentioned, that road is not really meant for walking. I decided to wait for the bus. Except, after 20 minutes there was no sign of any bus. That’s when I spotted this ruddy old man crossing me in a car who gestured to ask if I needed a lift. For once, I decided, what the heck, and nodded yes. He slowed down and I hopped in. This man looked like he was in his 50s. He was sweating and quite red from the heat. We amiably chatted on. Turns out he used to deliver the newspaper to Du Maurier’s home as a boy. He lived in London for 20 years and had now returned to live a quiet retired life in Fowey. Ten minutes later we approached Fowey and I realised that he had taken a turn opposite to what the bus had in the morning. That’s when I began to panic. I do not think I have ever felt this scared in my life. A sick feeling developed at the pit of my stomach and I began to hurt between my legs. I noticed that the route we had taken was a lonely road with old houses set back from the road on either side. Suddenly the bright sunny day looked gloomy and eerie as the trees closed in above the road. In the next two minutes I had gloomy thoughts of my remains being found years later after the missing persons file had been closed on me dumped in the backyard of one of the houses we were crossing. I felt sorry for AB and my family. All the time I focused on keeping up my pratter with my ride, wondering when exactly I could make a break for it.

Ohhhh….the relief when the car stopped at the harbour. Like he had promised, the gentleman really did take me to Fowey and to a part of town from where the ferry to St. Austell leaves hourly. I felt guilty for having attributed my unkind motives on him. But most of all – I felt relief. I waves. I breathed in deeply and continued to a hearty lunch.

The view from the Fowey bus stand
After the adventures of the morning, I roamed around Fowey, enjoyed a boat ride on the river and then took the bus back to St. Austell. I met up with an old friend in St. Austell that evening and we browsed through the streets of the town that took all of 5 minutes!