Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Serendipity of the Internet

Professor Swapan Bhattacharya is in his seventies having retired more than a decade ago from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai where he did cutting edge research in micro-biology. He settled down after that in Indore where a few of his friends in the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology, which houses India's biggest particle accelerator, had got together and created a residential colony near the centre to lead their retired lives in. Swapanji wanted to do something to improve the level of science education in schools for under privileged children and also if possible do something to improve the sustainability of agriculture. However, he had not been able to make any headway because he could not find an organisation of his liking. Then we met on the Internet. He is interested in urban water and waste management as this is a problem that his residential layout in Indore also faces. He is a member of the India Water Portal and there he read about the decentralised water and energy management systems that we have implemented in our house in Indore and he got in touch with me. And he got solutions from us not just for water and energy management but also for his long term desire to do something in science education and sustainable agriculture.
Swapanji came to know about our work in Alirajpur and especially about the residential school for Bhili children that we run in Kakrana where some incipient work is also being done to conserve and promote traditional Bhili dryland agriculture. He expressed a desire to see the school. So we went down to Kakrana from Indore for a preliminary reconnaissance. He liked what he saw and after coming back roped in his brother in law from Mumbai who gave him his car as he wanted to buy a new one. Then on 8th December we went down in this car and Swapanji carried enough material with him to settle down in the guest room that we have in the school. As is evident from the write up that he has written, he has hit if off with the environment and the people there, especially the children who are his guides for various things, in the same way as he is their guide for education.
In this picture he has climbed up with two of the children to the top of the hill overlooking the school and Kakrana village with the River Narmada in the background. At this height mobile and internet connectivity is available whereas it is not there in the school itself below. So Swapanji intends to set up an internet hub here for his own researches and for the school children and teachers. The problem with development work in Alirajpur is not so much lack of funds as lack of skilled persons. There was a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s when there were as many as ten middle class youth both men and women who were working full time on a near voluntary basis on very limited financial resources and those were the golden years of the KMCS. We are still reaping the benefits of the intensive work we all put in for a decade or so then. Since then unfortunately there have not been any professional youths from the cities going and working there. Despite many requests sent out, no one has come to work except for one or two youths for very short periods of time. But here we have a seventy plus retired professor deciding to stay full time in this remote village and enthusiastically devising solutions for many problems that the Bhils face. Initially he intends to set up a laboratory to teach the children the rudiments of science and relate them to their own environment. Such are the advantages of the serendipity of the Internet. Swapanji writes -
This village Kakrana in M.P., is about 225 Km from Indore. I went there the second time (8th to 20th Dec 2014) to see if I could survive there without falling sick - it is a very dusty area but totally free of industrial pollutants. I did stay well and even climbed hills without any after effect.Hills are not vey high, of course, but quite challenging for me.
The long stay gave me an opoprtunity to watch the activities of nearly 200 students and 10 staff families including all the teachers of the school except two who come from a nearby village.
An interesting development within the first three days was very amusing and touching at the same time. The car in which I went was parked on the open ground, there being no garage, so that it was in my view. For some protection, a green plastic usually used for shade was laid over it. It so happened that some one was trying to catch a ball, missed and the windscreen was hit hard enough for it to develop a minor crack. It was reported by a student to me first after a couple of days. They pointed out that  the boy was not a resident student but came from a nearby hut, and that out of fear, he did not turn up for the classes after the event. My assurance that I don't blame him because it was a play ground where I parked the car, and that I will be angry if he misses the classes any more did not work. Even then he stayed home two more days, and only when a teacher assured him, he resumed but did not face me.I did not embarass him by trying to see him either.
This episode had a wonderful effect. Many students and two teachers started constructing a garage having failed to get a mason. 
For fuel they go about every 15 days  to the jungles about 20-25 Km away on the banks of the Narmada along the river on a motor boat.  The fallen dead trees or dried up wood on the ground that they find, they load up to the roof and return to the river bank of the village where a pick-up  hired van is loaded and driven to the school about two kilometers away.On the trip we spent a total of 10 hours with ten of us, comprising of myself, 3 students, 2 teachers, one cook and three labourers. So we had to cook our lunch in the forest. 
I also climbed a nearby hill accompanied by two vey young students, Rahul and Pratap. It was a wonderful experience.
Another important discovery was that these tribal children speak a language called Bareli, which has no scripts, and so no written matter in any form. The only book is a fable collection written in Devnagari by two NGO authors. They have written the stories as orally transmitted fables, in the book titled "Kahaneen Petaro" meaning box of stories.
Since the students know Hindi script, they were charmed by the stories as they read them, for the first time, in their own mother tongue. They borrowed the book from me whenever they were free from regular school classes.

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