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)

State of development

The boom-town on the periphery of the national capital has done it again.

The State High Court has prohibited any future permission for construction till the authorities informed it how and from where it would get water for the city.

In a sea of mediocrity in a forever developing nation, it stands proudly as a beacon of development and growth.

It has, swiftly, scaled the final pedestal of the development scale. It has crossed the final hurdle by successfully consuming and eliminating all fresh water resources in its geographical area. And this milestone has been achieved in record time. To understand the magnitude of the achievement, it should be noted that the record so far was held by a town in a western country where it took over a hundred years for the town to finally consume all available water and end the cycle of renewal that nature, till then, was forcing upon the town. In case of our boom-town, it took barely twenty five years. This record is unlikely to be broken in a hurry.

The Chambers of Commerce and Industry felicitated the Chief Minister of the state for this unique achievement.

In a rousing speech to a huge crowd on this occasion, he said:

This has been the result of the vision of our forefathers, because of which, over the last two decades, despite this being a water deficient region, and despite there being no plans for providing water, merely on the basis of empty promises made by successive governments, this city has emerged as one of the most preferred destinations for investors and house-buyers witnessing massive construction due to the boom in the real estate sector in the region.

He paused while the audience clapped and cheered lustily.

This development would not have been possible without the continuing support of big business, with its endless ability to get around  rules and regulations with impunity, and our policy makers and law enforcers, with their unique ability to act tough where no need exists, like mandatorily extending school summer holidays by a week, and look the other way when there is a need to act, like murders and rapes. With the constant support of these two pillars of a vibrant, democratic society, we have consistently built where we should not have and drawn water where there was little available. The result is this vast, gleaming city of high rises, eight lane highways, shopping malls and restaurants, the yardsticks for progress, to match the best in the world.

He paused while the audience again clapped and cheered wildly. He took a sip of water, bottled over a thousand miles away, in a place that had not yet seen any development, and continued:

All of us know how water was being wasted on frivolous uses. Like drinking. When we should have been drinking water from bottles transported from a thousand miles away. As we have done so successfully in the past, we have gone to the root of the problem to solve it. The problem has now completely been eliminated. If there is no water, there is going to be no wastage. We don’t believe in half-measures.

While our development on the water front (pun unintended, we don’t have a water-front any more, as we have become developed) are in the limelight because of this record, I must remind you that our achievements on the other vectors of development are no less stellar.

Amid thunderous applause he took another sip of water bottled a thousand miles away, said thank you to the crowd, waved goodbye and stepped off the stage.

In an unrelated development later in the day, Chief Ministers of other forever developing states, like the one where the water the Chief Minister was drinking was bottled, met together to discuss how they could emulate boom-town’s record of consistent development. At the end of the meeting, they have agreed to set targets for each of their states for choking off all fresh water supplies, reduction in forest cover, and building eight lane highways, tall buildings and shopping malls, in a time-bound programme.

Summer Delight

In May and June, the Northern plains in India burn under a relentless summer sun. Daytime temperatures go upto 45 degrees (Centigrade, which, for the benefit of my western world friends, equates to 113 degrees Fahrenheit) for a good part of two months. Live here during these two months and the craving for escaping to the sunny climes will be cured, forever, if you do live to tell the tale.

As this period coincides with the summer break in schools, this is the time when people make an effort to get away to cooler climes. Further the better, of course distance being directly proportional to the wallet-size. Usually.

We took a short holiday this summer. To a nearby (don’t jump to unrelated conclusions about my wallet-size!!) hill-town, about 300 km. from Delhi.

The idea of such a holiday, to me, has always been to, of course apart from the sheer fact of getting away from the daily humdrum for a short period, breathe in the salubrious mountain air and allow the body to feel the various muscle groups by walking up and down the hill slopes, that sedentary city lifestyles makes one forget even exist. Even though it is always only for a few days. And this is what I looked forward to on this occasion as well.

It is amazing what good weather can do.

There were people checking in and out of the hotel all the time. As soon as the check-in formalities were completed, the guests would energetically move to their room, and switch on the TV. To be seen only when their favourite programmes were over, or at breakfast-time in the morning. In a place where the climate was not so bracing, the same movement from the hotel front-office to the room and switching on the TV would take considerably longer.

When not watching TV, people were energetically moving around town. In and out of indoor gaming dens. The more gaming dens and pubs they went to, the more they gave themselves the opportunity to breathe in the salubrious mountain-air while they were enroute from one to another. Even playing video games inside closed rooms becomes a healthful activity at such a place. There is no way they would get this healthful exposure in the city in between dens.   

We went on a walk / trek to the peak of the highest hill in town, which, I understand, in vertical height, is a modest 400 metres up from level at which most of the inhabited town exists. No Everest for the seasoned climber, but challenging enough for me.

As we made our way on foot to this peak, it was, again, a refreshing sight to see scores of people going up the hill and sweating. Their cars I mean. The cars made complaining sounds while battling against gravity on the narrow mountain roads. But the fearless drivers spared no exertion in shifting to the lowest gear and pushing their cars forward against the debilitating pull of gravity.

We were at the peak for over fifteen minutes. During this period, several groups of people came up, in cars and occasionally on motorbikes. They would, unfailingly, be awed by the mountain vistas visible, click pictures, picnic on bags of potato chips and soft-drinks, and start to go back, within about three minutes of arrival. I need to learn this sense of purpose.

Who knows, they may be in a hurry to drive back to their hotel and spend some quality time on the machines in the gym in order to stay fit. Unlike us who first wasted time and effort in walking up a motorable hill, and then loitered around for all of fifteen minutes.

Or they could be in a hurry to get back in time for their daily dose of various pills to contain and push back the advancement of diseases like blood-sugar, hypertension and heart-related ailments, caused by a sedentary lifestyle and inadequate physical exertion. If this is indeed the case, their discipline needs to be lauded.

We got an opportunity to commune with nature. And observe and mingle with different kinds of creatures inhabiting that world. From inside the comfort of our car. The outside world looks so pretty viewed from the insides of a temperature controlled car!

But before you again jump to conclusions (I use “again” as I assume you did (jump to conclusions) on the earlier occasion), I must clarify that, as always, we had stepped out of the hotel with the noble intention of a stroll around town. On foot. Yes you read right. We stepped out of the hotel with the noble intention of taking a stroll around town on foot. We even stepped out of the hotel premises on foot as the first step.

As happens on many occasions, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. As soon as we got out of the hotel and into a shaded path covered by trees, we were waylaid. By a bunch of monkeys. When I say waylaid I mean they were doing their usual stuff; swinging around from branch to branch, foraging for food, making noises, and all of that stuff, from at least fifty feet away. Now, for a city dweller, who has had as close an encounter with a monkey only from the other side of a cage wall, this was like being waylaid.

But the monkeys, I am sure, had not bargained for our sense of purpose and commitment. We hurried back inside the hotel and emerged, within a few minutes, inside our car. It was a really peaceful communion with nature. If nature was testing our mettle I am sure it had got its answer.

The locals will never understand this pleasure. We saw the locals walk past the monkeys as if they did not exist. They do not have a hope of experiencing nature from inside a car.

As city-dwellers, we don’t give up a good thing easily. We continued our stroll around town. Inside the comfort of our car. Try it, if you haven’t. It causes much lesser strain on the body.

They (the locals) also still need to walk across the street to cross it. They haven’t cottoned on to the idea of hopping into a car to cross the street. Or riding on a cycle-rickshaw manually pulled by a person twice their age.

They have a long way to go before they can catch-up with city folks in terms of development.