It was way hotter than all the summers she had grown up with. She looked around for shade. There was no tree visible in any direction…
The heat that radiated from the concrete road where she stood must have made it at least 2 degrees warmer. She was thirsty. There was no water anywhere in sight.
There were no streams and rivers. They had long been covered for development. Even a weeks walk away where the surviving well stood like a heritage site, the water was polluted. The factory producing water had less and less water for the common people as the privileged few took larger and larger shares every day.
She remembered her childhood when her parents had been happy when the government proposed to build more and more roads to exceed the record of 8 kilometres per day in the year she was born.
The rivers had been converted to waterways. They said it made us more developed. They said it promoted economic growth. They said mobility was important for economic growth.
She recalled her parents annoyance when her favourite uncle had explained that these were roads to destruction. She remembered he had said all that these roads will increase is the atmospheric carbon.
Both, because of the vehicles that ply on them, and because of fossil fuel that has to be combusted to make the steel and concrete for the road. He also explained the roads destroyed the tree cover, causing a loss of natures ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and release of oxygen to make it breathable.
He explained how the seasons depended on these trees. He explained how the trees depended on streams and their recharging the water in the ground.
She remembered wanting to hear her uncle tell stories about the 200 year old banyan and peepul trees that grew on either side of roads before she was born.
The birds, reptiles, mammals and insects that lived on them. She had never seen them. Mum always used to to stop him from telling her those fairy tales. These, her mum used to say, have no practical purpose. So these stories were a treat when Mum used to visit her oxygen spa, which was only once in 6 months and then more and more apart. There would be a long list and only those with notable contributions to the GDP would get a turn to be at the oxygen spa.
She remembered the sadness in her uncles voice as he talked about the trees. He definitely seemed to miss them. He seemed to miss the life they supported. He seemed to miss the streams that flowed between the trees. He seemed to miss what he called the seasons of nature.
He used to describe the battles of the few to save those trees from the urbanisation that engulfed the country. He must have been part of the battles, but he always talked about it in third person.
She used to wonder what banyan and peepul were, what those roads may have been. He used to talk about streams and rivers. In his world, water came from what he called as natures water cycle. The season that brought the rain used to be monsoon. Over its four months the streams were natures way of carrying waters across the lands to fill the earth’s tummy and make rivers carry the water to the oceans and seas, he would say.
She wished she could see these streams. Or the rivers. She wondered what the Monsoon may have have felt like, or what changing seasons may have meant.
Now, it was always hot. Water was manufactured in a factory and rationed to everyone. Though she believed him, she often wondered if her uncles stories about children playing in water in the streams were of a different universe.
The year she was born, they had chosen a government that talked about GDP growth, development and roads. Her uncle narrated that they did not even discuss environment as a criteria for deciding who to vote for or what future to choose.
In fact even the failure of the government to act on the then Prime Minister’s commitments to the UNFCC to increase India’s ability to absorb carbon by 3 billion tons or to decrease carbon emissions by 30% did not figure in the political debate.
Everything was about the short term. Commitments were about slogans, not about what would be really accomplished. No one, he said, cared about the short now. Or a period of 100 years. Or about her lifetime.
In 2019, they had been clever about their short-term choices that in 2029, in just 10 years, had let her short-now die.
#All views expressed in this column are the authors and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph