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Creating a Green and Cultural EconomyA story from India that integrates the best in East & West
By Ram Ramprasad
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Ram Ramprasad
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Richness of Biodiversity
I left India at the age of twenty-two for a teaching position in Africa. After teaching there in a University for a little over five years, I left for America for a graduate degree program and I continue to live here. However, I do visit my parents once every few years. But sometimes the demands of the job or squeezing vacation time occasionally stretches things beyond what one in India would consider often enough. However, my loving parents never complained about the timeliness, or the untimeliness, of our visits, They have always just felt happy to see my family.
At the age of ten, I developed asthma in India, sometime in the mid-1960s. Instinctively, I knew this had nothing to do with the genetic inheritance, although local doctors would simply attribute this to genetic phenomena (that I must have inherited from an uncle or a grandparent). Hyderabad, where I lived, was slowly getting polluted. When it rained in Hyderabad the Hussain Sagar Lake emitted an odor that triggered an asthmatic reaction in my body. This was an observation of my body's rhythms, that I attributed to pollution of the lake with industrial effluents. After I left Hyderabad for Africa, my asthma disappeared and never returned. But memories of my asthma, triggered by pollution, remain.
From the ages of four through twenty-two, I remember my early years both in New Delhi and in Hyderabad. The early years were marked with a sense of awe for everything that I saw in India and the life I spent at my house in Hyderabad. One cannot imagine the natural wonder that existed in the early 1950s and 1960s in New Delhi and Hyderabad. It now seems to have disappeared. What follows is a story of the land that gave birth to me: a pre- and a post comparison using mid 1960s as the benchmark for comparison.
The day I left India, my friend, Ratan, gave me a poem he had written. To this day he continues to be a true lover of his country and a cultural spiritualist. His poem celebrates the majesty of India. I consider it a hymn, and thought it would be appropriate for the opening chapter of this book. I was amazed at the wonder Ratan saw at such an early age in the land he loves so much. As adults, we sometimes do not know the potential we had as young children. Reading this poem perhaps gave me insight to recapture that youth I really was. When I shared it with him later, Ratan was quite surprised that he could have written such a poem at such an early age. He did not even recall writing it until I showed him his own handwritten words.
To My Motherland
by Ratan Dadhichi, Hyderabad, India (1976)
Hail to Thee, my ancient and glorious Motherland,
Hail O Mother, with Thy rivers eternal and fertile land.
Crowned with Himalayan peaks of Shiva's snowy abode,
With Thy feet resting gracefully on Rama's ancient road.
Thy gentle arms reach the oceans East and West,
And holy rivers flow from Thy motherly breast.
Thy fruits and corn smile with golden zest,
And make, O Motherland, a paradise thrice blest.
Thy mountains are nurseries for the Spirit's communion,
Where sages and saints meet in holy union.
Thy sons, O Mother, speak in many a tongue,
And yet Thy beauties have never remained unsung.
Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh, Thy altars adorn,
Rama, Krishna and Buddha were in Thy cradle born.
Thou Mother of Saints and Gods, how eternal Thou art,
O Motherland, Thou art the smile and sigh of my heart.
Where is the land as hallowed as Thee, O Motherland,
The cradle of a human race as ancient as Thy soil and sand.
Call me again and again to Thy breast, O Mother Divine,
Pray, send me not to another lap to languish and pine.
Hail to Thee, my ancient and glorious Motherland,
Hail O Mother, with Thy rivers eternal and fertile land.
For some odd reason, I filed Ratan's poem along with all of my important degree certificates. About 10 years ago, I stumbled on the poem and, for some reason, it hit home.
Strangely enough, I visited India the same year I found the poem. During that visit I was not sure that we were making any wholesome progress at all. I have intentionally chosen the word: "wholesome" because the word "holy" is derived from the word "whole."
The local newspapers for overseas Indians always touted our economic progress and the export of software to America and Europe. People in India were proud that they matched American standards. Family and friends would boast that India could now supply any Western product in its stores. My family and I, having become accustomed to several Western tastes, were quite happy to feel at home. Cereals, fruit juices, tissue rolls, shaving blades, decaffeinated coffee, you name it, and you had it. My family and friends were delighted that we could have it all. The generosity of my family and friends was unbelievable.
Yet at the same time, I sensed my father's unhappiness. His work revolved around horticulture. An agriculturist by training, he was always candid with his children that he had two wives: one my mother, and the other his profession as a horticulturist. He was troubled at what was happening with the country. He related a story to me that he wanted to start a curbside trash collection and recycling program in the colony, but most people were not ready to pay a reasonable monthly fee. On the contrary, most were happy dumping trash just a few houses away from ours on an open land. The sight of the garbage mountain right in the midst of a well-developed neighborhood was very unsettling. A true volunteer at heart, this troubled his psyche. He somehow managed to pull through a Hyderabad Bachao Program (Save Hyderabad). Finally, through the cooperation and leadership of several of his friends, he managed to convince the right authorities to clean up the garbage mountain and the Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad.
He was not only a social worker but also an author of agriculture-related articles and books. He wrote the poem below at a ripe age of 82. I accidentally saw it on his desk during my visit. He was a little embarrassed when I read his poem. But I was so proud that he had attempted to write and publish it. I am still not certain whether the poem was published in the local newspaper as he had planned. On that visit, I "stole" a copy of his poem and then sought his permission to keep it. My father's poem shows the pain he felt at the destruction of the trees in India. I share with you the poem, along with the letter he wrote to the local newspaper seeking its publication.
The Song of Trees
by Dr. L. Venkataratnam, Chairman
Agri-Horticultural Society, Hyderabad
(Written sometime in 2000)
The sacred earth is our mother,
The bright sun is our father.
We are not mobile as you are,
We will not survive if you dare,
We grow with your care,
Birds nest in our branches.
They help us to multiply in ranches,
We can survive if they cut us.
But you cannot survive without us,
Our journey is till eternity.
For we have to serve the posterity,
You cut our limbs for all festivities.
We never frown on these activities,
We live in villages and cities.
But people in cities do not care,
Yet, we try to grow everywhere.
We are destined by men to be cut,
But we still yield fruits for them to eat.
We can still survive if they hate us,
But they cannot survive without us.
Trees Survived Killari Earthquake in Maharashtra
(My father's letter to the local newspaper that accompanied the poem)
"Last year the day after the Ganesh Chathurthi festival, the earthquake destroyed thousands of houses, cattle, men and its devastating effect caused a losses of over Rs10,000 crore. This forecast is well known to our country. But one good feature that escaped the attention of the public at large is the survival of the trees. In this region, Ramkat, Babul, Neem, Tamarind, Karanj, Ficus are the common trees. Not a single tree was uprooted. These trees had a firm foothold on mother earth. This natural affinity of the trees with Mother Earth protects them. It is this reciprocal love with Mother Earth that the earthquake did not disturb them.
"Roads are being laid, houses are being built, electricity is being restored, schools are being rebuilt, hospitals are being restored, but the trees are being forgotten in the program for rehabilitation. Let every house have a few trees, and let the victims of the earthquake love and protect these trees. In the sun, they will protect them when the earthquake destroys everything else. Then I ask, why is the public so partial that they cannot undertake serious tree planting with economic trees that will maintain our ecosystem?"
What struck me with the letter and the poem was his deep understanding of the word "reciprocal" that I have underlined. He once commented to me that a possible cause of the earthquake was oil drilling. He provided me with an analogy: consider what would happen if we take the cartilage fluid out of a human being's knee—the bones in the person's knee would rub against each other and cause severe pain. Similarly, my father said the same could be said about the tectonic plates of the earth: removing the joint fluid of the earth (oil) may cause problems such as an earthquake. I present his opinion as a hypothesis that may need further research by geophysicists and geologists.
Every environmentalist and ecologist seems to have an innate understanding of the law of "reciprocity." My father is certainly not the kind of person who would visit a temple frequently. His temple was the tree, the garden, the land, and nature.
E.O. Wilson, the famous Harvard biologist coined the term 'biodiversity." This word became a household word for my father. Another term coined by a naturalist that described him well is "ecospirituality." I truly think my father, in his heart, was an ecospiritualist and a specialist in biodiversity. Sometimes I come across others who were like him or I hear about them and their in the news. Then there are so many others like him who go could care less whether the world notices their work or not. All of these people are the true karma yogis of our land.
Chapter TwoSustainable Living in the 1960s
Let's now go back in time and trace the pre-mid 60's life that I enjoyed with my family. After reading the poem below, we need to question ourselves on the meaning of the word "progress" in India. The important question to assess from the poem is the meaning of true sustenance. The intention of the poem is not to draw the reader into any kind of story on my personal family life, but to reflect on our lives on how it was in the 1960s (at least for those of us who have already reached their mid-50s or older.)
Sustainable Living in the 60s
My Mom, the beautiful,
My Dad, the strong,
Together they supported the six of us.
True souls living in perfect communion with nature,
The house we lived was a haven for recycling,
Orange peels were made into pickles,
Seeds of mango, papaya, and grape were given to the farmers,
Creating a Green and Cultural Economy
Plastic bags were knitted into delightful mats.
The leftover milk was converted to curried dish,
The fresh mud of earth was used to clean pots and pans,
The humble cow with an abode in our backyard gave us milk
Its sprayed dung kept the insects away from our house.
We shampooed with Shika nuts,
My sister rejuvenated her face with turmeric,
Not one tooth lost at 84, my father brushed with his finger, and tooth
My mother knew all the old grandma remedies,
Yet, when the time was right
She rushed my brother to the hospital for an appendectomy.
They faced vicissitudes with common sense,
But, surprisingly, they communed with nature,
I was bitter as the youngest wearing recycled clothes,
But, alas, I knew their wisdom,
I read comics and magazines from the circulating vendor library,
Newspapers were sold back to the recycling vendor.
My father taught the neighbors kitchen gardening skills,
He appeared on radio and TV teaching bonsai.
In his spare time, if he ever had,
He invented, through natural means, a custard-apple without
He was honored with an Honorary Doctoral degree from America.
I read all about it in my Telugu language textbook in my 6th
Doctoral degrees were awarded when people developed simple
Solutions to complex problems.
Doctoral degrees are awarded when people develop complex
Solutions to simple problems.
My mother reveled in her culinary skills,
She bagged prizes in national contests,
She had an art of transforming even grated potato skin to a culinary
Nothing was wasted in her presence,
She watered our kitchen garden with water from the well,
And bartered plantains and sapota fruit for guava and papaya
She nourished our supple bodies with a wide variety of fruit,
Cross–legged we ate breakfast, lunch, or dinner,
Instinctively, she knew this would help prevent an arthritic joint.
Creating a Green and Cultural Economy
She celebrated every festival with zest and zeal,
Stringing garlands of flowers with jasmine and hibiscus,
She woke us up at 4 am on the nights of Divali,
And made us crack the early morning dawn with incense and
Dad and Mom created magic in our house,
Everything was recycled and nothing was polluted,
Not the water that left our drains,
Nor the air that breezed through our windows
Although I was only a child in the pre-mid 1960s, I realized that India was a cultural economy. People understood ecology within the context of a deep and rich culture. The entire fabric of the community was designed in such a way that the day-to-day habits of the people, their way of life, the business economy, the technological structures, and the physical structures did not interfere with nature's inherent ability to sustain life. For example, even the kitchen utensils in my house were not cleaned with a sponge (created with a petrochemical base); they were cleaned with coconut husks. I hope some can relate to the examples cited in the poem above with a sense of nostalgia. I simply reflect and think about the pre-mid 1960s wisdom where nothing that left our house was polluted. The water that left our drains only had organic or biological waste. There was no trace of detergent, soap, toxic chemical, or even toilet tissue paper. Did our culture somehow know not to mix industrial sludge with biological sludge? Maybe our culture also knew that such activities would only produce toxic fertilizer that through plants would find their way back into our bodies. Introspectively, I marveled at the culture that so deeply influenced a sustainable and an ecological culture. How did this happen? What was the basis?
Now, let us also see how India was historically so that we can get a better understanding of why India was a cultural economy and whether this kind of cultural economy supported an ecologically appropriate lifestyle. About 200 years ago, India was ruled by kings who were dishonest and corrupt, but the water management tradition of India was healthy. There were hundreds of thousands of tanks all over India, on which the villagers and townspeople depended to survive. The kings never made these tanks; it all happened because of a decentralized form of government in which the communities had control of natural resources. People made channels to bring water to the tank, and they would make sure that no one could pollute the channel or the watershed. According to Anil Agarwal, an environmentalist who passed away, "Today nobody cares—not the government or the citizens." I wonder whether this is because we have become alienated from the rich aspects of our culture.
There are some key takeaways from this chapter:
the focus on natural resources must fall back into the hands of the community.
both the people and the government need to become more sensitive to balancing development with ecology.
a revival of an almost forgotten ecologically oriented culture needs to be reestablished.
These criteria are the underlying theme of the succeeding chapters, with several clues on how to accomplish these objectives through a slow and methodical approach.
Excerpted from Creating a Green and Cultural Economy by Ram Ramprasad Copyright © 2011 by Ram Ramprasad. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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