Sunday, June 25, 2006

The War against heat

Preet Pal was a landless farmer. He worked for a corpulent dictator of a farmer; he paid him only Rs 10 an hour, utterly insufficient to feed his family. So Preet was delighted to hear of the new initiative by the government to grow Jathropha on hitherto uncultivated (and therefore, wooded) land. And even more delighted when his application to cultivate that land was accepted only with a bribe of Rs 4000.

Ram Singh was a hard worker. He earned his daily bread by chopping trees. His was an honest trade: he would make Rs 50 per tree he would chop down and dispose off. And he did four on a good day; three on a bad. His pay was roughly Rs 4000 a month; he was one of the massive Indian middle class. His wife worked in a pappad factory in the city; she made a cool 2500 every month; the could afford to send their children to a good English Medium school. Oh, and Ram was an expert bull-dozer driver.

Viral Patel was the contractor. He put the bread in Ram's plate (for hours of tree-cutting labour). He was the stereotyped middle-man; shouting into cell-phone in ear, spitting paan on the pavement, conveying an air of unparalelled unctuosity. With a white cap replacing the bald head, you could mistake him for one of those Lok-Sabha people. And a few years down the line, Viral hoped, you wouldn't just mistake him for one of "those Lok-Sabha people". Live everyone else, he had hopes of being the prime minister. Viral had bribed so many ministers that he thought it made good business sense to be one. Viral was now doing a job for the government; he was cutting the trees off a "boring" section Ranthambore. The government had carefully weighed odds; it had reckoned that energy were more important that keeping the tigers alive. Without energy, what is the use of tigers? No tourists, no money.

Amit Kumar was an engineer. Not the best in his class, but certainly passionate. He had gone to school long ago, he had done a few courses on energy. He remembered that biomass was Carbon-dioxide neutral. (The only carbon dioxide that it emits on combustion is the carbon dioxide that it absorbs while growing. Safe to say that the replacement plants are "recharging" the atmosphere with CO2.) He reckoned it would keep the world a safe, cool place. So, he designed a biomass (datura) cultivation system for the government.

Yusuf Khan was a professor. He had pioneered the use of datura ( a common weed) for energy production. His papers had won fame world-wide. He became a household name in India. Lots of excited parents started calling their new-born sons Yusuf. He had, coincidentally taught Amit that course, where he had made the claim about biomass.

So, Amit's plan to build the farm went ahead; Preet and Ram did their bit. Mr. Shere-Khan is now dead; so are 5000 trees whose services in converting CO2 to O2 have been lost for all eternity. A scar on the face of the planet. Yusuf then, went on to win the Nobel Prize for ushering in the black revolution in India. Alas, "black" could very well stand for eternal doom; not just oil oil.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Two Nations in One

Between 68 deg. E and 92 Deg E; 8 deg N and 36 deg N lies one massive piece of land; a piece of land that hosts two nations. The nations of India. Both Nations answer to international calling code +91; but only one that has access to the internet domain .in

There's a nation that is wealthy; that posesses a standard of living competing with that of the U.S; and there's a Nation that would give Darfur a run for its money as far as misery is concerned. Let's call the nations India and Bharat respectively; reserving the English name for the prosperous nation. It reflects reality better.

Bharat speaks in many languages - and most of it cannot write. Bharat dwells in slums; relies on the usually unreliable monsoon for farming. Bharat has one of the largest populations in the world; but still has one of the least per-hectare yields of agriculture in the world. Almost all Bharatwasis are farm-based. The urban dwellers often works twelve hours a day, six days a week to feed their massive families. Life in Bharat is a struggle.

In Bharat, opportunities are scarce. Education is seldom a priority. Illiterate parents often do not appreciate the importance of school; they put pressure on their children to work and support the family instead of letting them go to school (a situation borne out of, often, utter necessity). Even the women work as labourers (who said working women is a new concept in Bharat?). Construction work happens in the foul 50 degree heat. And women don't even have bathrooms to bathe in. This is true even in the more prosperous southern states. Let's not even talk of the miseries in Orissa and Bihar.

And when it rains in the slums, it falls on the bed. It falls on the stove. Mosquitoes breed outside the front door. And the government does not remove them easily; the poor cannot bribe. The combined (Bharatiya + Indian ) economy survives exclusively on bribes. And when it does not rain, things get even worse. Water supply is muddy (if it exists). Long trips to the well by women have become quite a common feature in National Georgraphic and other publications.

In Bharat, reporting sexual abuse (an astronishingly common phenomenon) is an unaffordable luxury. There's no time to report it; the police will not take it seriously; and the social stigmas that follow are, well, a fate worse than death. Bharat is a land of 900 million. 900 million battling over scarce and mediocre resources. For the Indians have hogged all the good tomatoes, the healthy eggs. The Indians use all the power, drink all the water.

India is a new world power. It was always a nation of a very high standard of living. Perhaps the only thing wrong with it was the extremely hot climate; and the squalor in the streets created by the Bharatwasis. I mean, who wants to walk on a street which smells like a sewer? Who wants to look at poor, suffering people? But besides that, life is excellent in India. Houses can be cleaned for a pittance by the Bharatwasis. Indians are ambitious. They want to do well in life; their life is greatly inspired by American sitcoms, American Universities and American freeways. Some Indians set sail for greater "opportunities" abroad, but with globalization, an Indian standard of living is really high enough.

Bharatwasis are converting to Indians; some of them are drifting up the stratas of the society. 45% of all the Bharatwasis have cable of some sort already! But there's so many of them. A sudden change in the standard of living is almost impossible. It will take a herculan effort to awaken the Bharatwasis.

It is gratifying to note than democracy has come up with a solution. Affirmative action. Will it benifit the Bharatwasis in the long run? The Indians don't think so - affirmative action hurts the Indians. You wouldn't expect them to support these reservations.

I'm sure democracy will come up with an affirmative action approach that shall not affect the Indians negatively. For what is good for the Bharatwasis will be good for the Indians in the long run. Perhaps Bharatwasis and Indians will be the same in the future.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The origin of faith

Humanity has come a long way from the cave to palaces; from tree-tops to giant yachts, from a nomadic pastoral existence to the moon. One of the single most important factors influencing Man's success is faith. Why faith? Why does faith give a human being strength? Why would belief in something improve man's survival chances?

In this article we will try to rationalise divinity and show that it isn't supernatural after all!

There's security in numbers. Suppose 12 people go hunting individually (one by one). And suppose another twelve people go hunting together. It doesn't take rocket science to note that the former case would have made good meat for the animal, and the latter case would have made good meat of the animal. Humans in a group are more secure.

Consider a tribe in the Ganga valley. A tribe is essentially a set of people that reside in the same society. A leader is necessary for the survival of the tribe; leader-less tribes would have been wiped out due to the ensuing chaos! Suppose the ruler of the tribe is very sucsessful; a hero. Suppose he is a good ruler. Suppose he captures many other tribes - and becomes a tribal lord of sorts. If he rules well, will become very popular. And everybody would just idolise him. He would become a living legend (like Sachin Tendulkar is, right now).

In an era where photographs are a few millenia from invention, the only way to pass on his legacy is by word of mouth or by statue - or by book. A human being rapidly becomes a legend. And, in a millenium or so, he becomes a God. His simple deeds (like fetching a tumbler of wine from somewhere) get glorified into turning water into wine. People become passionate about him. He becomes the epitomy of good governance. All further rulers are expected to live up to an ideal established by him; kings aim to be but his re-incarinations, metaphorically speaking.

In a few millenia, Gandhi will become a God of truth and non-violence (his quirks would add to his charm!); Einstien the God of the grey cells, Angelina Jolie, the godess of love, and of course,
the rock band Metallica, the gods of painful noise.