Sunday, February 25, 2007

What Sustainable Development Really Means

It is in man's nature to create, to invent, to re-invent. The spirit of exploration, invention and discovery never ceases to be. For that is the purpose of man's existence, for that is how we have evolved, and that is what keeps the human spirit going. The wheel keeps on turning. From being a cave-man to being the cubicle-man, it has been a continual, iterative process of discovery that has led us through the dark ages and into brighter sunshine. Or into more darkness?

What is the cost this indulgence, we question. What is the real measure of progress? Are we making progress at all? Are we headed toward self-annihilation? Are we too good for our own good? Such questions arise in ones mind when one sits back and takes a peek-preview at the history of what has been the intellectual evolution of mankind. We proudly brand ourselves as being a civilized race.

What are the pros and cons of what we term as Development? If you would ask a school going kid the same question he would probably say - "Science and technology has done much good, but is also very dangerous if we don't use them properly". The issue really is as simple as that. The facts are there for everybody to see -

On one hand, with significant breakthroughs in the field of medical science and engineering, we have improved the life-expectancy of an individual; we are now in a position to combat many of the dreaded diseases with the progress in the field of human genome mapping; the battle against AIDS continues to this day with the help of latest medical technology; also we have seen a reduced infant mortality rate. Dams have been built using the best engineering principles which now helps farmers in irrigation; we now have super computers which have been facilitating this progress. The list is endless.

While on the other hand we have industries which sustain the same technologies, the same infrastructure, polluting earth's biosphere - Poisoning of precious aquifers and rivers by industrial effluents; depleting rain forest; uncontrolled emission of greenhouse gases leading to global warming; depletion of the ozone layer; increased vehicular population leading to air pollution; displacement of people due to dam constructions and other developmental projects; The list here too, is endless, ironical, and more tragic.

It would be improper if we were to disregard other impacts that mankind's quest for progress has had. Lifestyles have changed over the years quite drastically for both the urban and rural populace. We see an increased migration of people from rural to urban areas due to the rising distrust in the social infrastructure which in turn cause resource bottlenecks in cities. Agricultural lands are being used for non-agricultural purposes. The list of concerns, as you must have guessed by now, is endless again.

We live in a globalized world in every sense of the word. Cultures are influencing other cultures; the very own fabric of society has changed over the years for good or for bad. But there has been a general trend which shows decreasing social capital. Tension between people of different religious, ethnic and geographical backgrounds still prevails. Traditionalists and modernists debate on what is good for the society. So it all comes down to the interplay between the environment, social policies and the people, and economic policies.

What is the way forward? Should be the question we need to look forward to answer. The answer hopefully can be found in a Sustainable Development Policy Framework. Sustainable Development should aim at engendering economic and social policies, which–

  • are viable in the context of the environment that we live in, taking into account its importance and constraints, respecting that Environment is a resource which belongs to all, and affects all. It should be realized that the rate of consumption of natural resources should be less than or equal to the regenerative capacity of the environment;
  • bring about equitable growth among the populace, ensuring a decent standard of living for all. As we have seen earlier, disparity in economic and social growth brings about tension in the society;
  • aren’t short sighted – which are responsible enough to consider the needs of our future generations. As Dr. Kurien had once said “When you leave this world it does not matter how much your bank account reads, but whether you left this place in a better state than what you had found it in ”;
  • respect the species of flora and fauna and which avoid exploitation of their habitat.

Mankind cannot be tamed; the spirit cannot be bogged down. There is no Utopia – they only exist in books and papers, chaos will persist. What is the need of the hour is a pragmatic, sustainable approach which makes the best of the worst - which takes into account the damage already inflicted and the necessary damage control exercises that need to be carried out which will ensure the sustenance of our biosphere including our species, and the other species who are at our mercy.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Flight of the BaddiMaga

16D - it came to be. I am not talking about a Canon D-SLR; It was the seat which would finally see me through my maiden flight aboard an airplane - a childhood fascination coming of age. It had been a pleasant day all throughout. The pizza in the afternoon was quietly being digested; the birds were chirping; the sun was setting- all in all it was a pleasant evening - much to my dismay. Life stuck to being a stubborn, normal curve without much eccentricity. Gunshots! anybody? I quietly settled down at 16D - not drawing much attention.

Now, this too wasn't spared of the last minute tensions. Nature came-a-calling in her full glory - reminiscent of the mood largely prevalent just before the commencement of an exam during the VTU-era. After I had washed away my sins and surpluses, I began my brief journey back to 16D. I say this because, when I looked down the walk-way - straight down, at the long row of seats with dimly lit interiors, and gradually fading figurines, it seemed like a pretty long way back to 16D. Sigh!

After a couple of paces, the Mr. Hyde in me took over the formalities. He slid his hand into the pocket and began to wonder how it would be to draw out his single-barreled Walther at this point of time and announce to the ignoramuses, "This plane has been hijacked!". I could sense my heart pumping at this point of time. The kind of feeling that you get preceding something important. Reality bites, but. It soon dawned upon Mr. Hyde, as he was groping in futility for the phantom, single-barreled Walther, that all he had with him was a lousy, harmless, single-barreled Reynold's roller ball pen with 047 scribbled on it. Damn!

It is sometimes sad how things turn out to be sometimes. The way out of this misery is to eat a nice little pastry preferably with a blood-red, round cherry on top. You are assured of an even better feeling if the pastry came free of cost.

I tried hard to hide the all-assailing smirk that had begun to shape my countenance by this time. I could no longer hold it back. So I hurried to dear ol' 16D and settled down with a jerk, giggling softly. I covered my face with fingers and looked through the gaps to make sure that I was not being noticed. It's an old habit - being conscious of the effect of your presence on others. (even though I now know that I am no star celebrity; I still feel a little conscious about how I come across to others. But that’s another entirely different boring story)

Mr. Hyde was being quite persuasive. He had other Shakespearean plots conjuring in his mind. The emergency exit window looked rather tempting. The red lever arrangement which called out loud "Pull me!", looked tempting. If it hadn't been for the pretty young air-hostess in her enticing, perfectly groomed frame who had interrupted me in my flights of fantasy, I would have probably gone ahead and booked my date with the judiciary. "Sir! Are you willing to take the responsibility of pulling the red-lever in case of an emergency?" she asked in her conditioned to-be-polite tone. "Yeah baby! Anytime for you!”, I thought to myself. And then I was shown the red-lever which her French manicured finger nail polished with crimson red nail polish were pointing at. "Damn, that one". I was disappointed, to say the least.

I had visualized this a hundred times in my head - the phenomena of an airplane taking off. I made sure that the puke-dump-bag was in its place. People had warned me in general of the things that could go awry. Mother, too, had warned me about the take-off blues. "Cotton buds in the ear and gum in your mouth" were the last few wistful words of hers before I left home. Keeping that in mind and other things, I had bought myself a 10-pack orange flavored mentos chewing gum pack. I popped one into my mouth and began the age old phenomena of chewing the gum (and what exactly did you expect me to say?)

It felt strange and a somewhat fleeting feeling of security came with the cotton buds in my ear - like one of those Gandhian monkeys.

By this time the plane had made its way through to the take-off strip/lane. There were assortments of light blinking on either sides - resembling a Bollywood wedding.

It happened quite quickly. After having gained considerable speed - a momentary jerk and we were off. Finally flying at 35,000 ft above sea level.

Umm, wait a minute. Did we miss anything here? Wasn't this supposed to be a little more dramatic? A little more exciting than this? This! a lousy momentary jerk! A tora-tora gives me a better high for 20 bucks, dammit! Is this what I get after having waited for an hour in the Q? A shake of the head brought me back to 16D. Damn!

It took a while to settle down. To get a hold of my inner-demanding-child. It was then that I looked out of my window without having anywhere else to look. The sight was worth all the monetary pain that money could buy. The confluence of the colors of dusk in all their shades was a sight which put me into the awe-mode.

How lucky am I that I wasn't born as a bird. For I would have flown these skies day after day, dusk to dusk, night after night without having the slightest idea of the beauty that I was bearing a witness to. At least I can now, as a human, sit in this aluminum contraption at 35,000 ft above sea level and sigh at the marvel that is flying, and many other things small and beautiful; with a slowly conquering buddha-smile, I showed the finger to the bird. For I know, and they don't.