Every Breath You Take

It was too good to be true.

I stepped out onto my balcony and opened my lungs. I could finally breathe.

The air quality had improved.

Future generations, coming after we have fully developed our society, may find it hard to believe. But it was true for us. The air quality improved and finally became very poor. From unfit for human consumption just a day earlier.

It came like a breath of fresh air. Or at least like a breath of very poor quality fresh air.

I breathed deeply. I was afraid it may not last and wanted to drink enough to last me till the next opportunity. Who knows how many of us would live to see the next occurrence.

And, like all good things, or at least very poor quality good things, it vanished almost as soon as it had come.

The Indian Meteorological Department has blamed the once-again unfit for human consumption air to the stagnant air that was a result of a depression in the Bay of Bengal that normally results in gale-force winds. The stagnant air apparently led to the particulate matter hanging in the air above us not being blown away to hang in the air above people in other locations, and be replaced by other particulate matter hanging in the air above people in other locations blown in to hang in the air above us.

As episodes of the depression in the Bay of Bengal and stagnant air happen several times every year, we did not expect it to happen and enervate the atmospheric conditions in Gurgaon. We would not have known in the monsoon season that preceded winter, that winter conditions will set-in in October and create challenges of atmospheric pollution because they have been happening every year and getting worse year after year. And if we did not know in monsoon that winter conditions will set-in in October and create challenges of atmospheric pollution, how could we have known it in the summer months which come even before the monsoon months. Every year. And we know that one can only try to manage something that one knows, or at least knows of.

Senior leaders have expressed surprise at the presence of the Bay of Bengal in the Bay of Bengal and believe it is a conspiracy hatched by the previous government. Despite them ruling the country for a good part of the post-independence period, the Bay of Bengal is still in the Bay of Bengal, they indignantly say. Expect a global tender to be floated to move the Bay of Bengal from its current position in the east of the South Indian peninsula, they have announced, in an oblique reference to the soon-to-be-granted mining and exploration rights that are highly regarded for their unique ability to convert any environment to an utter wasteland.

But tackling pollution is not something that can be left to the central government alone. Stepping up to the plate, despite being constrained by not knowing that winter will set-in in winter and bring with it challenges of atmospheric pollution, the municipal authorities in Gurgaon have announced a slew of measures, mainly the building of several under and over passes under and over existing roads to make sure more vehicles can ply on the same ground surface area. In fact, the good work begun by them several years back, like that of cutting down hundreds of mature trees on the road leading from HUDA City Centre Metro Station to Signature Towers, on which our housing society lies, to make it possible for an underpass to be built so that more vehicles can travel on the road, is beginning to bear fruit. The spanking new underpass is now operational, blowing clean dust and clean exhaust fumes from fast moving vehicles, and not stale dust and stale exhaust fumes from idling vehicles before the underpass opened, directly onto our building in greater quantities than ever before, helping me realise my closely guarded Hollywood fantasies. I sometimes picture myself as Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” hanging outside Burj Khalifa in Dubai like Spiderman, right in the path of an approaching, freshly-brewed sandstorm.

Giant air purifiers that were installed with great fanfare at busy intersections during last year’s handling of the annual crisis, and were the greatest invention since sliced bread, were such a resounding success that nothing has been heard about them ever since. Or perhaps the new under and over passes to accommodate more concurrent vehicles ate up their space as well. Does it matter? After all, only taxpayer money was spent. To become Revenue on someone’s Income statement.

The forested Aravalli hills that abut Gurgaon are being proactively prepared to tackle the pollution menace by being urbanised for their own good. Once they are gone they will not be affected by increasing levels of pollution, is the sound logic heard in offices that matter.

Plans have been finalised to place restrictions on using motorised vehicles on roads which will enable the government to encourage people to buy more cars and keep them parked on public property. Even a motorcycle rally to raise awareness about the pollution menace has been announced, demonstrating once again that there is no problem big enough that cannot be addressed by making bold announcements.

But we cannot sit on our laurels just as yet.

A few days back Chennai topped the worst air quality charts in the country. Despite having the disadvantage of being on the coast and day after day, year after year, seeing atmospheric pollution, created with the hard work and contribution of so many people over years, being blown away by the sea breeze every morning and evening. And it has repeatedly done so. Topped the charts that is.

There is work to be done. And miles to go. Preferably participating in a rally to save the environment while driving a fuel-guzzling motorcycle on an underpass, for making space for which mature trees were cut down, to an office complex built on space earlier occupied by the forested Aravalli Hills.

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Panic grips Delhi as monsoon rains lower pollution levels

It was a scene straight out of a Hollywood horror movie. But without an American hero on hand to save the world.

The Great Rush

The Great Rush

There was shoving and jostling and pushing to catch the next train leaving town. Those who could afford to, packed their cars and fled.

The reasonably timely and plentiful rains in and around Delhi have washed away the atmospheric pollution, and with it the last vestige of normalcy, leaving hapless residents gasping for breath in an environment they are not familiar with, clean air.

An earthquake of 8+ magnitude on the Richter scale could not have caused such panic. Signs of distress are visible all around.

Too much visibility

Too much visibility

Motorists are in all sorts of trouble. Suddenly able to see far, drivers are having a difficult time keeping their focus on the road immediately ahead, and are bumping into all sorts of objects, including objects off the road. There is just so much visibility that one can handle.

Looks cool

Looks cool

Even man’s best friend has not been spared.

As can be expected, sports and outdoors people are among the first to be affected.

I Give Up

I Give Up

Cycling for health has gained popularity in recent times. But in the situation the city is presently in, cyclists have no option but to hang up their boots. “If there in no pollution about which awareness is to be raised, what is the point of cycling”, is a refrain one is hearing from the cycling community over and over again. And, indeed, from the running community as well.

What's a Doctor To Do?

What’s a Doctor To Do?

“We were trained to handle chest and lung problems caused by a polluted environment, not by a clean one”, this senior medic can be heard complaining. “We will have to go back to school. This puts at risk the years of hard work we put in at medical school.”

…even as queues at respiratory clinics around the city are rapidly increasing and threatening to go out of control.

But nothing like able leaders to show the way during a time of crisis.

PM Modi, as has come to be expected of him, was the first to take responsibility.

'Twas this finger that did it

‘Twas this finger that did it

In this TV grab, the PM can be heard saying “bhaiyon behnon, yeh is ungli ka kamaal hai; main chahta hoon ki desh ka har nagrik aur har bachcha apni ungli ka theek istemaal kare” (brothers sisters, it is the magic of this finger; I want every citizen and every child to make proper use of their finger). The faithful, of course, understand that he was implying that he reached up and punctured the clouds with that finger to let the rains come down.

Being an intelligent man, after taking credit for what he did not do, and knowing that rains were causing distress to the people, he has promised to tackle the problem on a war footing by launching the World Index Finger Day.

Face masks are becoming redundant.

This has let to sharp cutbacks in production in some factories in a country to the North and East, that manufactures everything in the world. This, in turn, has led to labour unrest in some parts of that country.

But, one man’s meat as another’s poison, they say.

Designers are stepping in to fulfil the need of locals to wear masks, which they have become accustomed to, and without which they feel naked. It is the latest fashion accessory to be seen in, in high society.

Here is an image of a socialite seen in a Prada mask at a popular event in Delhi.

Prada mask

Prada mask

Shopping malls, as part of their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) effort, are stepping in to do their bit by inviting people to breathe in their bottled, recirculated air while they shop.

Breathe in deeply

Breathe in deeply

A busy mall in the suburb of Gurgaon, abuzz with people eager for their “fix” of stale air.

Car companies are eagerly awaiting their turn to do a good turn to society.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, as has come to be expected of him, immediately announced relief for the beleaguered population by introducing the Odd-Even scheme. Readers of this blog might know that Mr. Kejriwal solves all issues with the help of his trusted Odd-Even scheme, be it excessive pollution, unmanageable traffic, or, as in this case, too little pollution.

Odd AND Even

The Power Plant in its heyday

Under the new version of the scheme, the decommissioned coal-burning Indraprastha power plant would be restarted to give the Delhi air some of its mojo back.

The new version is called Odd AND Even. The plant, once restarted will work on Odd days. AND on Even days.

Those were the days!

Those were the days!

Being the good man as all politicians are, or become, the Delhi CM is reported to be deeply affected by the developments. In this image, with a wistful look, he is watching a video of the halcyon days of Delhi. Can he bring those days back?

But there is good news. The Met department has forecast that rains will soon taper off and Delhi will return to its salad days of haze and smoke and smog and dust.

If people who have left Delhi are reading this, please plan on coming back soon. We miss you. More than that, we miss our atmospheric pollution.

ODDities and EVENtualities

No prizes for guessing what this is about. The title pretty much gives it away.

In a bid to reduce atmospheric pollution and improve the ambient air quality, that, thanks to the joint efforts of the common man and successive governments over several decades, has snowballed out of control, the Delhi government has decided that, beginning 1st January, only cars with even numbered plates will be allowed to run on even days and odd numbered ones on, you guessed it, odd days.

Their hand has been forced. They have had to resort to take this step because other, more reasonable, permanent measures, that would permit the common man the luxury of choice, have never been tried, and hence can be classified as totally ineffective. Like charging a substantially higher price for gas-guzzling vehicles. Like a road-pricing system that deters driving and parking in the city. Like an enforcement of simple traffic rules such as parking to ease needless jams. Like closing down illegal factories. Like regulating construction activities in the city. What is the government to do?

A similar mandate had once been issued in the capital of a big country, to the North and East of ours, with an even larger population. My fellow common men and women had marvelled at how quickly they had been able to take decisive steps, without bothering about process and consensus, in the interest of the nation, and how we have been mired in bureaucracy while attempting to take similar steps.

As soon as Delhi Chief Minister (CM) announced that cars with odd and even numbered plates will be allowed on odd and even dates, without bothering too much about process and consensus, my fellow common men and women have broken out in criticism, of the CM taking unilateral decisions without respecting the democratic fabric of our society and the impact of such decisions on the common man.

That the decision has been well thought through and all possible angles examined is evident from the fact that the government has promised to repeal this arrangement by the 15th of January, if the common man is inconvenienced, pollution be damned.

For the convenience of the common man, emergency vehicles, ambulance, fire, hospital, prison, hearse, enforcement vehicles, vehicles of paramilitary forces, Ministry of Defence, pilot and escort, vehicles of SPG protectees and vehicles bearing diplomatic corps registration numbers would be exempted from this rule. As will be the vehicles of the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, Governors of states/ Lt Governor, Chief Justice of India, Union Ministers, Leaders of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, Chief Ministers of states except Delhi, judges of Supreme Court and High Court and Lokayukta.

As, indeed, will be vehicles of persons with disability, two-wheelers, buses, CNG vehicles, women drivers with women co-passengers and children upto 12 years of age and vehicles of persons in a medical emergency carrying proof; like a body, perhaps.

The remaining vehicles, if any, will be managed by a posse of cops withdrawn from other unimportant duties around the capital where they are deployed despite not being required so that they can be withdrawn on a whim, as well as an army of volunteers, drawn from their various important tasks of doing nothing.

In order that the arrangement gets a “trial by fire” in real-life conditions, schools in Delhi have been ordered shut till 15th January in order to decongest roads.

The Delhi government hopes to launch an App for car-pooling and giving lifts to strangers. In a display of responsible governance, it has appealed to people to avoid giving lifts to strangers for security reasons.

Meanwhile, capacity created on roads, if any, will be quickly absorbed by making new, bigger buildings, with even more grossly inadequate parking spaces, and narrowing down passageways with the help of unauthorised parking. As was so effectively done when the Delhi metro came into being and took away, we are told, some load from the roads. While absorption of road space has been planned for, it is not yet clear how the reduced pollution, if any, will be replaced, so that another hurried decision, to reduce it and save the lives of common men and women, can be taken in the future. The CM has appealed to the common man to play his part if he desires to be saved again in the future.

Vilified they may be for taking this decision, one has to grant, even if grudgingly, that the Delhi government has taken a bold step. And, in doing so, they have opened up a gloriously simple and effective path for solving many of the internecine problems plaguing the world, so that we can live together and happily, if not ever after, at least longer.

Crimes against women, committed by men, as they almost always are, will soon be history. The state government is about to issue a decree to permit men and women out on the streets on odd and even days. Only persons with disability, women with other women and children upto 12 years of age, persons in a medical emergency carrying proof, paramilitary forces, SPG protectees, diplomatic corps, the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, Governors of states/ Lt Governor, Chief Justice of India, Union Ministers, Leaders of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, Chief Ministers of states except Delhi, judges of Supreme Court and High Court and Lokayukta, will be exempt.

We can look forward to a future of rock-solid fixed-line quality connections on our mobile phones. Only even numbered phones will be allowed to function on even days, and odd numbered ones on odd days.

Death caused by irresponsible use of private fire-arms will be reduced to half by permitting only arms with an even-number registration to fire irresponsibly of even days, and, you guessed it again, odd-numbered ones on odd days.

This could change the world.

It already is changing the world. Fighting to be in the race to save the world from drowning in pollution, a village in Italy has banned the making of pizzas in wood-fired ovens, while Japan has banned smoking between 9 AM and 12 noon on weekdays. In an effort to not get left behind in the race to save the world, the Nordic countries have come together to ban walking and cycling and introduced a steep tax on all cars that are not SUVs. Found wanting in their ability to further improve the quality of their air, they hope these steps will position them well to contribute to this noble cause when the need to save the world arises the next time.

While the city celebrates, a citizen group has struck a sour note by asking the Delhi government for a refund of half of the road-tax car owners have to pay at the time of buying a car. “If you are not permitting me to use my car half the time, you can only charge 50% of the amount,” is the logic.

But the government is not letting such trifles worry them. After all, they have the power of inadequate assessment and hurried decision-making on their side.

Horse Before The Car

An earlier post, on 17th September, titled Thank God It’s Tuesday, has stirred the hornet’s nest. The nest, that we also call home. Battle lines have been drawn. Predictably, as my readers would have come to guess by now, only me on one side.

Matters came to such a pass that the entire duration of a drive to a restaurant, about a week back, lasting about forty-five minutes, one of the longest forty-five minutes I have encountered, was devoted to a discussion on the subject of car-free Tuesdays, as has been proposed, and implemented in parts of Gurgaon, and, on which subject, my earlier post was based. Despite knowing who I was up against, there being no place to hide inside a car on a forty-five minute drive, the debate was joined.

Just as well, because what was understood to be a one-day adventure, is now expected to become a weekly affair. Come Tuesday, come car-free day in Gurgaon. The next Tuesday is never far away.

Reproduced below, to the best of my memory, is a summary of what transpired in the confines of a car travelling forty-five minutes to a restaurant in Delhi, with four people inside, about a week back, as night was falling. In order that you do not go scrolling down to the bottom of this post, I will only reveal here that all four occupants came out alive, without signs of any bodily harm or physical injury.

Them:

Cannot understand the criticism of car-free Tuesdays. It is a good idea. You have to start somewhere, isn’t it? Maybe it cannot be done on other days of the week for some reason. Going car-free on one day of the week is a step in the right direction and we should encourage it. And it is OK if a cost-benefit analysis has not been done. It is not possible to have a cost-benefit for everything. This is for raising awareness amongst people, of the benefits of not using cars. Even raising awareness is a benefit, is it not?

Me:

I have nothing against it. But, if it is such a good idea, why are we doing it only on one day of the week? Every day should be a car-free day. Hastily declaring a day as a car-free day sounds fishy to me. It reeks of tokenism; doing something because you are under pressure to take some action, irrespective of eventual results. The Gurgaon administration will perhaps claim that pollution levels on Tuesday have come down thanks to this drive, without certifying if the levels on other days go up.

And what about impact on output, or GDP? Is there nobody missing a meeting? Is there nobody rescheduling planned work? Are there no workers unable to make it to work? Are they going to do that missed work on another day? Will that not increase the pollution level on that other day?

Where do the bicycles and shuttle buses being used on Tuesdays come from? Is there an alternate use which they are being forced to cancel, for their availability for car-free Tuesdays? What about the GDP loss on account of withdrawal from those services? If not, then do we have an excess of this equipment? Who is responsible for spending people’s money on buying needless equipment which will only be used on Tuesdays?

If the administration is saying that private companies are providing these resources at no cost to the exchequer, we will obviously believe them. Because private companies in India are set-up for the purpose of charity and public good. To chip-in as and when a government official gives a call for a car-free Tuesday. Making money is not part of their DNA. They will neither look for compensation nor contracts in lieu, for the services so provided.

Before the government implements a plan, there needs to be an assessment. The assessment needs to say that the plan will add value, or, be good for the world, or the part of the world they are responsible for. If assessed to be good, it should become a law, and implemented forever. If not good, what is the point of doing it even one day of the week? One does need to have a view. It may not be an exact mathematical assessment, but a view needs to be taken, based on available information, whether a proposed action will be of benefit or not.

If the population being addressed is that of adults, where is the need for “show and tell”? Are we saying out adult population is not smart enough to know what is good for them and what is not? There are education and awareness mechanisms available, like advertising. Why not use them? And, if people, based on their assessment of the world around them, have come to the conclusion that driving is the most effective means of transport for them, are they not going to continue driving on other days of the week once these special shuttle-buses and cycles stop being available on those days?

If raising awareness were to be enough, why don’t we switch off all traffic lights and make them work only on, say, Wednesdays, to raise awareness among people that it is good for them to follow traffic rules. The rest of the days should, arguably, be smooth because we would have told those foolish adults what they would never have otherwise known. Or hang people for murders committed only on Thursdays. Murders on other days will automatically stop. Of course we have a foolish adult population and we need our wise administrators to tell them what is good for them.

Though I have clearly expressed my views in the earlier post as well, having heard strong contrary opinions from my family members, I wanted to open up the debate to a larger audience. I have been known to be a fair person, especially when under pressure to be fair. Would welcome your views on the subject. Of course, any views different from mine could be subject to summary deletion.

I have also attempted to use the polling option to seek specific feedback, if you can spare a minute.

 

Thank God It’s Tuesday

Once upon a time, not so long ago, people who could afford to travel far, would tend to do so. And people who could not, would not. People who could, and would, would come back with scarcely believable stories of how they would sit alone in big, powerful, hired cars, on the smooth tarmac of wide open roads, and barely crawl, while watching cars with two and three passengers whiz by in reserved lanes. These people came back not only with these fantastic stories, but also with valid questions about our government’s commitment to development, and if ever a time would come when, after years of pushing people to buy cars, for the good of the nation, what else?, the government would ask them to not drive them. The cars we mean. How long could they keep going to these faraway lands for these experiences? And, were the many, who could not, to be forever deprived of the fruits of development?

Thankfully, those dark days can be safely consigned to the dust-bin of history as a bad memory. Youngsters do not need to grow up with the burden of being born in an under-developed nation any longer. Gone are the days when one would need to travel to developed countries in the West in order to experience development. It is happening here. It is happening now.

It has been announced that Tuesdays will be observed as Car Free Days in Gurgaon, that Mecca of modern development.

You heard it right. We are there. After years of pushing people to buy cars, for the good of the nation, the government is now asking people to not drive them.

The salutary effect of this announcement is already being felt all around, even though the first car-free Tuesday has not yet come around.

It has immediately ushered in a private shuttle-service provider being contracted to offer transportation services to people. A shuttle-service provider who would have had no business from the government if cars had not been prohibited for a day. A shuttle-service provider, who, being a commercial enterprise, will offer these services by losing money.

HUDA, our Urban Development Authority, has promised to repair all roads in Gurgaon. Their impeccable reasoning, it appears, is that since roads will not be used any more, at least for driving, it would be safe to repair them.

Showing solidarity with the decision, the chief of the traffic unit of Gurgaon police has committed to walk to her office that day. In the emotional aftermath of this momentous announcement, it was unclear whether she will walk to her office from across the road, or from the entrance to her office building. In any case, her able team has promised to keep her entire possible walking route clear of all pedestrian traffic on the car-free day so that she is able to effectively enable the common man to walk freely on the roads.

In addition, the traffic police has assured people that since there will be no vehicles on the road, they will ensure that not only are traffic signals not violated, but people also park only in designated places.

It is promising to be an exciting day.

“It would not have been possible without your support. This is really a celebration of your tireless efforts. You have continued to buy cars, each bigger than the last, mindlessly, while we have continued to mindfully neglect public transportation and the environment,” the Minister, just arrived in a posse of SUVs trailing dust in post-monsoon September, said, as he stepped onto the stage to speak at an event to announce the occasion.

“Did you know that this decision will save an average of 2.6 kg of greenhouse gas emissions per person per day?” he said as soon as the applause had died down. “And it does not end here. Since it is so important to save on greenhouse gas emissions, instead of a mere 2.6 kg of greenhouse gas emissions per person per day this Tuesday, we will ensure that the savings can double to 5.2 kg per person, within a year. To enable us to meet this objective, two new car-making plants, to be set-up in Gurgaon, exclusively for producing gas-guzzling SUVs, have been sanctioned today. Now it is in your hands to ensure that Gurgaon delivers, yet again.” The rest of his words were drowned out in the thunderous applause that greeted this announcement.

To commemorate the occasion, a major South Korean car company has announced a special Car-Free Day edition of their most popular model. These cars will be collector’s item and will have only one useful function; of making the car maker rich without any logical reason.

A European car maker has announced the sacking of their CEO on account of poor performance in India and the government’s unhappiness about the same. It has been reported that if he had delivered on his targets, the Car Free Day would have been scheduled much earlier, as the desired saving target of 2.6 kg of greenhouse gases per person would have become possible earlier.

Claiming that most of the work that made this day possible had been done during their tenure of ten years, the Opposition called a Press Conference on the sidelines of the main event.

“Nothing is impossible,” the leader of the Opposition said, “when one is armed with a complete lack of ideas and knowledge about what one is doing. This concrete and glass city, is a case-study in the complete absence of policies that lead to rapid development. In a city that has come up in less than thirty years, and was meticulously planned from scratch, we have successfully failed to plan for people to cross roads, how one road will connect to another, and even for parking. If that had not been done in such a thorough manner, how would we be building this spanking new underpass where we are holding this meeting, as we speak, or the parking structure over there? Not only that, the many twists and turns you have to go through under the brand new highway to locate your turn, made more challenging by the traffic police frequently changing the direction of turns without any announcement or signage, is a shining example of the complete absence of planning. I challenge you to reach Moulsari Avenue, a mere 500 metres away, in less than 30 minutes. If this is not development, show me what is.”

Meanwhile, at the main event, the Minister revealed that delegations sent to other global cities to study their interventions have yielded many ideas that will soon be implemented. For instance, in one place, only even and odd car numbers are permitted on specific days. “Isn’t that wonderful? Now each person can buy twice the number of cars without the need to drive an inch more. I assure you that by the time my term finishes, from one car-free day per week, we will ensure that each car can be driven only on one day in the week.”

Yet another box has been checked off in our relentless drive (no pun intended) towards development.

Let us, this day, solemenly pledge to contribute to development by buying more cars, especially ones that we cannot afford, as it will help us in walking more and using public transport more.

Earth Hour

“It was a tough day. I was on pins and needles the whole day, in anticipation of that hour. I could hardly work. I so wanted to make a contribution.” Taking a swig of bottled water transported from five hundred miles away, he continued, with evident satisfaction of a job well done, “but, on the balance, the wait was worthwhile. In order to beat the stress I was experiencing, I drove around town aimlessly. I even played some Playstation games in the evening. It makes you feel good to be able to give back. The feeling you get when you contribute to something greater than yourself is incomparable.”

“That is the time of day I am usually on the road on my way back home after work. Not to miss out on this opportunity that comes once a year, I got my driver to drive back home and fetch my son’s bicycle. Then, after work, as the hour had come, I rode the bicycle home with the driver driving the car behind me. I even instructed the driver not to run the air-conditioning in the car”, he said, looking at the mirror on the wall, as if trying to locate the halo he expected should have sprouted around his head by now and tenderly touching a spot on his neck he believed would be the point at which it is tethered.

Let us call them Friend A and Friend B, in order of appearance in this story. The three of us, third being me in case you did not guess, were meeting over a cup of coffee to catch-up and discuss some business possibilities. It was a few days after the day the world had contributed towards saving the environment during Earth Hour. But the reverberations were still being felt.

“Couldn’t agree more. After all we have a responsibility towards the future generations. If we don’t discharge our responsibilities, who will?”, asked Friend A, rhetorically. “I had instructed one of my team-members to stay back in office and ensure all lights and ACs were kept on till 8 PM, the Earth Hour time, so that we could switch them off sharp at 8 and contribute. Normally they would be switched off at 6 PM, when most people leave office.”

“I had asked my wife, who was at home, to switch on the ACs in the house at least a couple of hours earlier than usual. Even the ones we don’t normally use,” said Friend B.

“That was very thoughtful of you”, complimented Friend A, while making a mental note of doing the same when Earth Hour came around the following year.

By now it seems they had realised something was amiss. I was not participating in the discussion. Perhaps seeing the blank look on my face, like a sensitive, concerned friend, Friend A slapped me on the back of my head and asked, “What’s biting you? The cat got your tongue?”

I was feeling smaller and smaller as the conversation had progressed. I had always felt out of place in such discussions. But, with the Earth Hour looming large, I was afraid my inability to participate in affairs of the world would finally be exposed.

“I could not switch off my ACs”, I said in a feeble voice.

There was a look of disgust on their faces which they tried to hide for the sake of old friendship. Unsuccessfully, as always. “What right does this fellow have to endanger our future generations?” was the question writ large on their faces.

“But why? I am sure you know how to”, Friend B asked in a reassuring voice.

I looked sheepishly from one to the other. Then said, “because I did not have them on.”

This statement confused them. But they quickly gathered themselves. “But why?” they asked in unison. “Why did you not have them on?”

I was trying to avert their piercing gaze. Looking down at the floor, I said, “I am sorry. But the weather has been quite pleasant. I have not felt the need to use ACs. Even today, a week after the Earth Hour, I am not using ACs.”

Friend B gave me a pitying look as if to say “you are beyond redemption.” He added, in a slightly exasperated tone, “Fine, you did not switch off your ACs. But at least you would have switched off your water-heater.”

I was hoping the earth would open up and swallow me. No words came from my mouth. I could only shake my head from side to side in denial.

There was a look of even greater disgust on their faces which they tried to hide for the sake of old friendship. Unsuccessfully, as usual. “Not only has he tried to endanger future generations through his actions, he is even trying to endanger the lifestyle of the present generation through his utterly responsible and unnecessary ways. Not only has he not been running ACs, he has even been bathing in unheated water”, was writ large on their faces.

After a few minutes they softened a little. We were old friends after all. Friend A tried to reason with me. “Don’t you see the problem? If you don’t sleep with the AC on, how will you be able to run the water-heater through the night and bathe in hot water in the morning? You will not feel the need.”

Seeing that the logic had not registered, he tried again. “Look, let me say this in a different manner. If you don’t bathe in hot water in the warmer months, how will you have the urge to emerge from the hot shower into an air-conditioned room?”, he asked, with irrefutable logic.

“So, guess what, we were able to contribute even more to the environment by switching off the water-heaters as well. Everyone knows they are second only to ACs in power consumption”, Friend B added helpfully.

I was having trouble meeting their eyes. I never knew they carried such a flame for the environment in their hearts. AC because it is too hot. And water-heater because it is too cold. Masterful. And then switching off both for Earth Hour.

“Look, I can understand some of this can be difficult to do. But you are a smart guy. I am sure you will do better next year. All it takes is a little practice. A big party has been arranged this weekend to celebrate the successful observance of Earth Hour. It is an all-night party, under lights, in an AC venue. People who made sacrifices for the Earth Hour need to relax and let their hair down. Join us there. You will be able to experience the joy felt by people who were able to contribute”, Friend A said reassuringly.

“I even carry the news-item in my pocket”, Friend B said, pulling out a crumpled piece of paper as proof of his commitment to the cause. I had read that piece a couple of days back. It called upon people to actively contribute to the Earth Hour by turning off unnecessary lights and electrical gadgets to show you care about the environment. It was a stirring call to action.

“Next year we are thinking of instituting a prize for the person who turned off the maximum number of unnecessary equipment that he had been keeping on for the rest of the year. And for creative ideas. Like the folks who have kept their back-up power generator running even though there is no need for back-up power, so that the Earth Hour savings can extend beyond electricity to fossil fuels.”

Yet another Earth Hour had come and gone.

Yet another opportunity I had missed of not contributing to the cause by switching off things that I had needlessly put on.

The Rebuilding of Uttarakhand by AIF and UMA‏

On 25th July, I had posted about the death and destruction caused by torrential rainfall, coupled with human greed, in the pristine but ecologically vulnerable state of Uttarakhand nestling in the foothills of the Himalayas.  The post is titled “Continuing Education” and can be accessed on: https://darkofficehumour.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/continuing-education/.

Anoop Nautiyal, an old friend of mine, who hails from Uttarakhand, is actively involved in the rehabilitation efforts. I am enclosing an email I received from him a few days back, outlining some of the efforts and appealing for help to the global community:

Dear Ankur,
Hope all is well with you.
As you are aware I am actively involved in the rebuilding efforts of my home state of Uttarakhand. There are several initiatives with which I am involved but I will take the opportunity to mainly talk about one initiative in this mail. Sorry that I have taken some time to get back to you. We had been engaged with setting up the structure for our rebuilding efforts.
I am pleased to share with you that Uttarakhand Mandal of America (UMA http://www.umaus.org/), the Silicon Valley, USA based civic organization that I represent, and the American India Foundation (AIF http://aif.org/) have recently tied up to bring long term relief to the affected areas in Uttarakhand in India. Please see the details of the AIF and UMA partnerships on their respective websites and also the enclosed Joint Appeal from the two partnering institutions. I am the India Trustee for the UMA initiative.
AIF is one of the largest India centric foundations in the United States and was formed in the aftermath of the massive 2001 Gujarat earthquake. The former President of the United States Of America Bill Clinton is the Hon. Chairman of AIF. Many other distinguished US and Indian citizens are on the Board and hold trustee positions with AIF. They also have a solid presence in India through their office in New Delhi. During the past ten years AIF has put in approximately USD 100 Million Dollars in various projects across the country. One of the major features of working with AIF is that 100% of the funds that are donated are deployed in rehabilitation and relief since AIF separately raises funds for all administration costs.
On behalf of the AIF and UMA global effort I would like to appeal to you to make donations towards the rebuilding of our state to AIF. The American India Foundation Trust (AIFT) is a registered section 12A trust and also registered to receive donations under Section 80G of the India Income Tax Act (Registration No: NQ DIT(E)l 2011-12/1018). All donations made to AIFT are eligible for 50% tax exemption under Section 80G of the Income Tax Act for Indian nationals/corporates.
I would also like to encourage you to spend some time looking at the AIF website. They carry quite a lot of information on the kind of projects that they have undertaken along with their partners in bringing about long term change in our country. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask and I shall get back immediately.
I will be grateful if you could kindly also forward this mail to your close family, friends and business associates in India and other countries who you feel would be keen to contribute towards the noble cause of the rebuilding of our state. The international donors can go to the “Donate in the US” section on the AIF website.
Many thanks Ankur for your help.
Best wishes!
Anoop Nautiyal
India Trustee, Uttarakhand Mandal of America (UMA)