The Lost Soul of a Nation

The impassioned plea (text in italics) was originally published in the wire.in (link below). The author is Avay Shukla, a retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer. The IAS and IPS (Indian Police Service) cadres, numbering close to 10,000 nation-wide, represent the backbone of the country’s administration. Although beholden to their political overlords, there are a few dedicated public servants whose primary loyalty is to India’s secular constitution. This is one of the miracles of India, a nation of 1.3 billion that struggles to hold on to Gandhian ideals while ruled by a national government that tacitly condones communal disharmony.

Although the letter below specifically refers to India, this searing indictment applies equally to the political ruling class in most countries, with very few exceptions. One exception in this bleak Indian picture is the state of Kerala whose Communist-ruled government has made extensive provisions for the welfare of migrant workers. As the Economic Times notes: “Amid lockdown: Migrant workers a content lot in Kerala.”

View from [Greater] Kailash
Thursday, 21 May 2020
 This is not about the sorry exodus of millions of our more unfortunate brothers and sisters playing out on prime TV these days. It is not a piece about the government, or about politics or economics. It is neither critical nor sacerdotal. It is not about Mr. Modi or the Biblical scale suffering he has inflicted, yet again, on those who had put their trust in him. That is a matter between him and his Maker, and I hope the potter who moulded him can forgive him, for history will not. This is not about a callous Finance Minister with the rictus of arrogance stretched across her face. It is not about a judiciary which has thrown away its moral compass in the arid deserts of ambition and preference. It is not about a media which has struck a Faustian bargain with the devil and is content to feed on the offal flung its way. It is not about Rahul Gandhi or Mayawati or Nitish Kumar for they have already become irrelevant to the pathetic course of events unfolding.
  This piece is about me and the burden I carry, a burden of shame, that has been sitting on my back for the last few weeks and cannot be dislodged, no matter how hard I try. It’ s a burden which just got heavier this morning when I read a post by an army officer describing his moving encounter in Gurgaon with families of “migrants” walking their way to Bihar, no footwear on the weary soles treading on melting roads, hungry and uncomprehending four year olds, of how they wept and tried to touch his feet when he gave them a few five hundred rupee notes.
  I hang my head in shame in the India of 2020. At belonging to a country and a society which exiles tens of millions from their cities, fearful of catching an infection from them, from a virus brought here, not by them, but by my brethren flying in from abroad. Of treating the hapless victim as the perpetrator. Ashamed of being a gullible cretin who swallows all the lies and half-truths churned out by a dissembling official apparatus. Of beating pots and pans as a servile hosanna to an uncaring presiding deity to drown out the sounds of tired feet marching to their distant villages.
  I can no longer recognise the religion I was born into, it no longer has the wisdom of its ancient sages and rishis, or the compassion of an Ashoka, or the humility of a Gandhi. It is too full of anger, of hatred, of violence. It has replaced its once lofty ideals with even loftier statues, caring deeds with dead rituals. It once fed the mendicant and the poor but now drives them away as carriers of some dreadful disease, without any proof. It even finds an opportunity in this pandemic to stigmatize other religions.
  I am ashamed of my middle class status, of many of my friends, colleagues and the larger family even. Cocooned safely in our gated societies and sectors, we have locked out our maids, drivers, newspaper man, delivery boy and a dozen others who have built for us the comfortable lives we now desperately try to cordon off from the less fortunate. We have deprived them of their livelihoods. We encourage another extension of the lockdown because our salaries and pensions are not affected. Our primary concerns revolve around resumption of deliveries from Amazon and Swiggy: the lot of the migrating millions is dismissed as just their fate- the final subterfuge of a society that no longer cares.
  I am ashamed of the thought processes of my class, of Whatsapp forwards that oppose any more “doles” to the hungry millions, that denounce MNREGA- the only lifeline the returning labour have left- as a waste of public money and food camps as a misuse of their taxes. I am ashamed that people like me can encourage the police to beat up the returning hordes for violating the lockdown, which, in the ultimate analysis was meant to protect “us” from “them”. For the life of me I am unable to comprehend how we, sitting in our four BHK flats, have the heartlessness to blame sixteen tired labourers for their own deaths: why were they sleeping on railway tracks? How can one not be ashamed when I hear my peers decrying the expense of trains/ buses for the returning migrants, the costs of putting them up in quarantine, when they approve of their likes being flown back by Air India ? This is not double standards, this is bankrupt standards.
  I am ashamed of my social milieu which lauds the leader for dismissing the cataclysmic sufferings of almost five percent of our population as “tapasya”, as if they had a choice. I am mortified to see the layers of education and affluence, the facade of civilisation being peeled back by a virus to disclose a heart of darkness in our collective inner core, the sub cutaneous mucous of hatred and intolerance for a minority community, contempt for the destitute. All age old prejudices, bigotry, racism and narrow mindedness have reemerged, fanned by a party which has fertilised their dormant spores.
  I am ashamed of the dozens of four star Generals and beribboned Admirals and Air Chiefs who  were quick to shower flowers and light up ships at a dog whistle from a politician but did not move a finger to provide any help to the marching millions. Did it even occur to them that they owe a duty to this country beyond strutting around at India Gate? That they could have used their vast resources and vaunted training to set up field kitchens for the hungry marchers, putting up tents where the old and infirm could catch a few breaths, arrange transport for ferrying at least the women and children?Their valour has been tested at the borders, but their conscience has certainly been found wanting.
  I am ashamed of our judges who have now become prisoners in their carefully crafted ivory towers, who had repeated opportunities to order the executive to provide meaningful relief and succour to the exiled wretches, to enforce what little rights they still have left, but spurned them at the altar of a dishonourable appeasement.
  I am ashamed of our governments who have forsaken the very people who elected them, and are using their vast powers, not to provide the much needed humanitarian aid these disorganised workers desperately need, but to take away even the few rights they had won over the last fifty years. I am ashamed of a bureaucracy that uses a catastrophe to further enslave those who have already lost everything, which insists that illiterate labourers fill in online forms to register for evacuation, pay hundreds of rupees ( which they do not have) for rail tickets, produce ration cards and Aadhar before they can get five kgs of rice, all the while beating them to pulp. Of a Joint Secretary to government who can apportion blame for the infections by religion. This is not Orwellian or Kafkaesque, this is a government gone berserk. How can one not be ashamed of such a soul-less administration, and of the people who commend its mistakes?
  They will reach their homes ultimately, those marching millions, minus a few thousand who will die on the way. They will not even be mentioned in the statistics: there will be no Schindler’s list for them. And we will pat ourselves on our collective, genuflecting backs that one problem has been taken care of, the danger to our neo-liberal civilisation has been beaten back, the carriers have been sent away, the curve will now flatten. But the mirror has cracked and can never be made whole again. As the Bard said, the fault is not in our stars but within us. Or, as  delectably put by another great bard, one of our own who now belongs to the “others”:
             ” Umar bhar Ghalib yahi bhool karta raha,
             Dhool chehre par thi, aur aina saaf karta raha.”
“All his life, man made this mistake
The dust was on his face and he was cleaning the mirror”
  Actually, this piece is not just about me- it’s also about you, dear reader. Look into that cracked mirror. Do you feel any shame, just a little , for what we have become, for the lost soul of a once great nation?
Note: Poet Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869) was born in the last days of the Mughal Empire and died in British India. Obscure during his lifetime, he is today considered one of the foremost Urdu poets of India and Pakistan.

Growing out of Oneself

Personal growth is the theme of most management text books and self-development manuals. A passage by Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran is a timely reminder in this fearful age of Covid. It reminds us that death is only the ultimate step of self-development and growth in the journey of life.

“It is said that before entering the sea, a river trembles with fear. She looks back at the path she has traveled, from the peaks of the mountains, the long winding road crossing forests and villages. And in front of her, she sees an ocean so vast, that to enter there seems nothing more than to disappear forever. But there is no other way. The river can not go back. Nobody can go back. To go back is impossible in existence. The river needs to take the risk of entering the ocean, because only then will fear disappear, because that’s where the river will know — it’s not about disappearing into the ocean, but of becoming the ocean.”

Carbon Capture and Storage – too expensive to save humanity? — Electrifying

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) can be practised in two ways, naturally and mechanically. The natural approach is much about planting additional trees[1], algae in the sea[2] or even the most giant creatures on earth, whales, contribute to natural CCS by consuming massive amounts of carbon within their lifespan of up to a century[3]. The mechanical procedure […]

via Carbon Capture and Storage – too expensive to save humanity? — Electrifying

The Hydrogen Economy

The hydrogen economy may be only a decade away, or more. Some people think that battery electric vehicles will replace combustion engines in the interim. Whatever the case, there are exciting new developments happening in the world of hydrogen. Here’s a shared post from the blog Electrifying entitled Hydrogen – unleash the beast.

 

Corona-tion Times

Thousands of thinking people all over the world are now beginning the see the current corona pandemic as an opportunity to radically restructure the world; to reduce our consumption of resources from a finite planet; to recalibrate a global economic system that enriches the 1% while impoverishing the 99% (and the planet in the bargain), to rethink our agricultural systems, currently dominated by large holdings and industrial corporations, to small farms and tenants who look to enhance biodiversity rather than only being driven by increased yields and profit.

Will humanity choose the road less travelled?

In whichever country in the world we live in right now, the crucial question our governments will deal with in the immediate aftermath of the current crisis will be: which of the following systems will be bailed out first: Banks and the financial system; major food corporations and large producers; the biggest energy utilities; airlines and the transportation system.

From the point of view of the average citizen, all of them are of equal importance. Most important, of course, is access to the most basic needs of life; food, clothing and shelter. In extraordinary times like this, when governments throw fiscal discipline overboard in order to preserve life, the idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI) suddenly looks attractive again. Here’s a link to a Wikipedia article on UBI that shows how the idea was first touted in the early 16th century in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia.

The lockdown continues, and Nature flourishes

Would the UBI plan work? In the best of all possible worlds, it certainly might, considering that the assets of the above-mentioned 1% would cover the costs. Is the UBI plan feasible? Who knows? Or as Shakespeare had Hamlet expressing doubt, “Ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.” On the other hand, a modern philosopher reminds us that a good crisis should never be thrown away. In other words, who knows what solutions may be workable in these extra-ordinary circumstances as we enter a new paradigm of learning, living, and learning to live.

Coal Knew! A 21st Century Tale

Here’s a story for the dwindling number (I hope) of climate change skeptics who still look forward to business-as-usual, or more-of-the-same as a blueprint for the rest of the 21st century. A HuffPost report in November reveals that, way back in 1956, the coal industry accepted the reality of global warming and did not feel threatened by it (the problem lay one generation in the future!). The same is true for the oil industry, according to a spate of lawsuits brought against it by various groups and several US States. In December 2019, Exxon won a major climate change lawsuit brought against it by the state of New York, but there are many more on the way.

The remarkable thing here is that the science of impending climate change was uncontested as long as the threat to the profits of fossil fuel corporations lay decades in the future. Here is the paradox at the heart of the debate about climate change. In the early days of global climate modelling, in the 1970s, the models were relatively unrefined and scientists themselves did not stake strong positions based on the results of their own models. Additionally, the majority of scientists subscribed to the myth that science has to be neutral in order to serve as an impartial referee that floated above the discussion, distributing facts where necessary. In reality, the discussions on the ground were becoming messy. The science began to be disputed as the soon as the deadline for meaningful action neared. Powerful polluters, mining companies, oil corporations, muddied the waters (both literally and intellectually) with arguments that played on statistical uncertainty to kick the decision a few decades down the road.

Fridays for Future logo

Meanwhile scientists sat back and redoubled their efforts, striving for ever greater accuracy in their models. They reasoned, logically, that once their results achieved greater accuracy, people would come round to their point of view. But that is not the way the world works. It has little place for logic and reason. So they toiled on, with ever more dense reports of double- and triple-checked facts and innumerable citations. Meanwhile the world went on guzzling gas and emitting CO2, methane, and worse. This is the point when the world drowns in despair or A MESSIAH APPEARS. Lo and behold! We have our unlikely messiah. Hundreds of thousands of school children, young people. Their face is that of Greta Thunberg whose single-minded focus has made her the global symbol of the movement.

Make Climate great again

If we look at simple facts, solutions to the problem are much more doable than we think. Elon Musk is mocked for saying that 10,000 sq. miles of the Nevada desert covered in solar panels could produce all the energy requirements of the United States. He’s right of course, but this is only intended as an example of scale. It wouldn’t be safe or desirable to have the entire nation’s energy needs produced at a single source. The following is a better example. An engineer acquaintance, Klaus Turek, calculates that in the case of a temperate country like Austria, just 0.391% of its surface covered with solar panels is sufficient to meet its electricity requirements. That works out to about 328 sq. km. for the whole country. The area covered by buildings is 2.4%, however (2,013 sq km approximately). Therefore, just 16% of the currently available roof space would be sufficient to cover all of Austria’s current electricity needs, with plenty left over for expansion.

Why did Gandhi Commit Suicide?

Fake news is alive and flourishing in all parts of the world, including in India, where WhatsApp and Facebook (among others) are helping to spread misinformation (inaccuracies) and disinformation (intentional inaccuracies) about events around the world. The above headline about Gandhi’s death apparently appeared in a school textbook in Gujarat, and probably represents ongoing attempts by rightwing Hindu zealots to rewrite history to the party’s liking.

Biology teaches us that life forms flourish when they exist in robust interplay. An increase in biodiversity in an ecosystem results in increased productivity in the system, increased resilience against natural disasters and increased stability overall. In our tech-driven century, the opposite is happening in the financial and business world. Commerce and economic activity are being increasingly dominated by a handful of powerful corporations: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Walmart, Tencent, Alibaba, and so on. The pattern is replicated within countries as well. In every case, in every country, Ambani, Adani, Li Ka-shing, Bezos, Zuckerberg, Ma… whatever their names, each and every one will use every means at their disposal to protect their wealth; economic biodiversity and planetary health be damned. It is truly easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…

It is time for us, planetary citizens and voters, to stiffen the spines of our politicians so that they can take steps to curtail the planet-destroying power of the Putins and Murdochs of this world. It won’t be easy, but the survival of the planet is at stake. Unlikely beacons of hope at this juncture are the protests of thousands of school children around the world led by a Swedish sixteen year-old girl with Asperger’s. Theirs is an example for every one of us to follow, in every way we possibly can. The next few years will decide whether we can salvage our planetary heritage for coming generations.