Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Save me from the environment

It was World Environment Day some days ago. And as usual I was somewhat bemused by all the exhortations to save the earth and save the environment.

Living in a village I’ve got accustomed to thinking just the opposite: that it is I who need to be saved from the environment.

This might sound absurd, but I’ve learnt that the natural environment is not only about pretty trees and flowers, birds and butterflies. It’s also harsh, tyrannical and frightening. So much so that existence here is still a primitive battle against nature and the elements.

I have to deal with snakes and bandicoots and monitor lizards and rats. There are black-faced monkeys who are no better than vandals and thieves. There are frogs who don’t allow me to use my own loo, who want to sleep in my bed and jump into my food. There are leeches and scorpions; not to mention the million strange insects which appear as soon as you switch on the lights in the rainy season, or the hungry lizards crawling the walls after them, or the hundreds of big red ants marching across my dhurries with the dead. Walking along the beach you have to be careful of jelly fish and blue bottles, sea creatures that stick to your skin and don’t let go. If you’re unlucky, you’ll even have a bull in a frenzy charging you.

The natural environment considers man a trespasser. What, after all, do all these creatures understand about manmade boundaries, about property titles and the like?

And though we may no longer be living in primitive times, it is with primitive terror that I endure the monsoons. The torrential rains in Goa are almost always accompanied by gales, by crashing thunder and lightning. The lightning sometimes goes on and on for hours, tearing the sky apart with its unearthly white light. Flashes sometimes float into my little cottage, followed by the most tremendous crashes of thunder. The winds blow at such terrific speeds that trees are uprooted every season, destroying roofs, disrupting electricity and creating chaos. If I believed in god, it would be easy to suppose – as the ancients did - that all of this is god’s fury directed at sinful mortals. Last year my modem and UPS blew as a result of all the lightning. The moisture in the air, coupled with the fluctuations in electricity, destroyed my monitor and mother board. My tile roof began to leak, as it always does when the wind is particularly fierce. And then the monkeys came, jumping on the roof, breaking some tiles and causing rain to fall inside.

This is Mother Nature, who does not need me to save her.

As for the greenery, you can go on trimming trees and bushes in an attempt to control the almost frenzied growth that takes place in the monsoons, but it’s no use. Everything springs back into life, thicker and more lush than ever. Even branches of broken trees continue to sprout leaves. The villagers sometimes use these thick branches to prop up trees that have bent in the gale, and over the years these branches acquire a life of their own, growing with the tree they’re supporting. Life after death, you could call it.

I once attended a lecture in Delhi by Leon Louw, a South African economic, political and environmental scholar. Every year in the monsoons, I recall the ‘crack in the pavement theory’ he spoke of when I watch the weeds mysteriously sprout. Where do they come from? What is the secret of their insatiable, maddening growth?

And how can we say the environment is being destroyed when it seems infinitely more powerful than puny man?

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