For just over a month now, hardly anything has happened at pointReturn – except, most gratifyingly, the 300 odd plants in the ground have continued their growth and the windmill has continued to water them. With that comfort, I spent the time of inaction to observe a few oddities.
Issues engaging the world – climate change, peak oil, recession, poverty, food shortages, commodity price increases etc- are discussed in very fine detail in urban parts of the world. In fact experts in these fields produce erudite papers loaded with complex numbers and many more young people are in line to gain doctorates in these subjects and swell the rank of experts.
And yet, to the urban world the adverse consequences of these crises seem quite distant. Well-paid jobs or profitable enterprises enable city folk -thus far- to buy petrofuel at whatever the price, turn on their air cons, run power generators, consume food from afar. Despite the chilling details and numbers with which articles and documentaries narrate the crises facing the world, the level of urban comfort does not reflect any awareness. There is the occasional environmentalist party bore who has the centrestage for a moment but it soon passes.
In rural India however, consequences are felt directly, often almost immediately. And they are coped with and assimilated in entirely different ways. Let me give a few instances from the last month in Chennai, India where I live.
Fierce and unseasonal rains lashed the whole state of Tamil Nadu in the middle of March. ‘Climate change’, murmurred the city in a knowing voice, as it looked out from behind safe windows. In the villages around pointReturn paddy, peanuts and watermelons awaited harvest when the unexpected rains arrived. If peanut is not harvested and sun dried, residual moisture makes them sprout. Rice stalks go limp and grains gone damp will begin to ferment. Watermelon loses esteem and prices during a cold spell quite apart from not completing their sun ripening phase.
As I drove to pointReturn, farmers everywhere were bringing out wet crops and drying them on roads and their fore yards. It is back breaking labour. These are true entrepreneurs – at least insofar as ‘risk taking’ goes- who in the absence of any hand-holding interpret climate change in their own way. “The seasons are changing”, they mutter, “these are evil times”. They may not be far off the mark.
“Information is the key,” declare learned city folk. In the week preceding the rains, the leading daily of Chennai, ‘the Hindu’ carried a small satellite map of the arriving storm in its inner pages. Its headlines belonged to -what else?- inflation, recession, politics, ideology and analysis. The state’s agricultural officers were too deep in slumber to notice the storm. Once the skies opened up however, farmers got their day of fame as cameras telecast them soaking wet beside ruined fields. Government announced ‘due’ compensation which the farmers mocked away saying it will never arrive.