I mention this as a preamble to contextualise my review of a thin but very important booklet written by Suresh Ediga consisting of stories that he told his daughter and son at bedtime. Suresh makes his living as a software professional in the United States of America but is at the same time an activist involved in social issues not only in America but also in India and especially in Andhra Pradesh from where he originally hails. He started off informally telling stories about the various social issues which he champions to his children at bed time and later made it into a regular activity. These story telling sessions are not one way but interactive, so that his children too ask piercing questions that help to clear the thinking process of the story teller and the listeners. In the context of our son's preference for the mainstream, I feel that Suresh's initiative is a very good one as it makes thinking and debate around social issues a regular feature of growing up for children and may help them to better counter the problems of mainstream development.
All the issues discussed in these bedtime stories are very relevant and they have been discussed in a very readable way. What impressed me most is that the booklet begins with the story of the Bhopal Gas Disaster. This disaster encompasses within itself all that has gone wrong with development in India. Whether it is the unsustainable chemical agriculture for which pesticides were being manufactured in the factory or the lax monitoring of the safety measures in the factory, or the way in which the culprits of the disaster were allowed to go scot free, or the heart rending machinations of the government and the courts to deprive the affected people from getting justice or the stark reality that the environment around the factory has not been cleaned up more than three decades after the disaster. Anyone reading the details of the Bhopal disaster and its continuing aftermath will know how rotten is the State in India. I was a little surprised, however, that Suresh, despite his extensive engagement with alleviating the sad plight of farmers in this country has not included a story on that issue.
The booklet is more important for the process it describes than the stories themselves. In these times of the internet the stories and many others on such issues can easily be collated but what is important is the diligence and patience with which Suresh has related these stories to his children and engaged in debates with them. The need for such pro-active parenting to inculcate an understanding of the serious problems of our times was driven home to me today by the aftermath of the Supreme Court judgment of day before yesterday banning the sale and registration of Bharat Emission Standards III (BSIII) vehicles from the 1st of April 2017. Even though the auto companies argued that they have an inventory of around eight lakhs of these vehicles of the value of Rs 12000 crores with their dealers from past manufacture and they should be allowed to dispose of this, the court said that the health of the people is more important than the profit of the auto companies and refused to budge. The result was that the auto companies arranged for sale of their vehicles that were there with their dealers at hefty discounts yesterday and also made arrangements that they would be registered and given the number by today which is the last day for such registration to take place. As a result there were huge crowds in front of the auto dealers throughout the country and all their stock of BSIII vehicles was purchased. Where is the environmental consciousness among the people of this country? Whether it is the auto makers or the people who went to buy the heavily discounted vehicles, the mentality that spurred both is to save or make a quick buck but not save the environment.
Unless there is a drastic change in mindsets of the new generations to come, more disasters even deadlier than Bhopal will strike sooner or later and so it is necessary to follow the excellent example that Suresh has set to ensure that our children are able to avert such a tragedy.