I read ‘The Ravaged Queen’ as soon as I got your notification. This post as opposed to most of your posts was one that had no bright sides to it. Alas a black body doesn’t reflect light. And so seems to be the case with most of the picturesque places in India. I am not singling out India. It is possible that could be the case with many developing countries that I haven’t been to or read about.
I am going to go on a flight of fancy to see what ails our sense of aesthetics and what can be done about it. I may sound harsh but please understand that it comes from a place of goodwill. I get the feeling that when it comes to civic amenities – public parks, grounds, stadia, picturesque public places and the country side – the citizenry doesn’t believe in the concept of the ‘commons’.
Each member of the citizenry likes to grab as much as they can for their own ends. It is the feeling that this is not going to last forever and hence let us take as much pie as can be walked away with. This is the impression I have had since childhood about an otherwise beautiful place, littered with styrofoam cups and plates, PET bottles and a rotting heap of food with flies buzzing angrily.
The ravaging of the queen of the hills is nothing new. When I had completed grade 5, my parents took us to Nainital for a summer vacation. The year was 1989. Mother, having grown up in Nainital, had very fond memories of the place and she was excited about showing her children the place of her childhood. It was her playground, where she learnt to ride the horse, pick rounded stones from the river bed of the Gola river and see the fish in the clear talli/malli tals (tal for your non Hindi speaking reader is a small lake).
What awaited her was sheer horror at the environmental destruction that had already taken place. Instead of the clear waters of the tals, the murky waters turned opaque from algal growth. Development had come to the hills and with it came untreated sewage release into the ‘tals’. Nearby tals were being used up faster than melting snow waters could replenish them. The ‘Nainis’ had become a minority in their own hometown – overtaken by a massive influx of ‘developers’ and their workforces.
Before the reader thinks of me being an exclusivist, I would like to state that I am not. I do believe that a country’s natural beauty is for everyone to see, experience and to share that experience. It is an exhilarating feeling to be able to experience the beauty and bounties that nature has to offer in one’s own country and to be able to tell about it with pride. That pride also has to translate into leaving the place as was found. I am not inclined to leave the blame entirely on the feet of the citizenry that abuse a place they visit and leave. That serves no one.
When I lived in Pune, India, I saw how the rolling hills surrounding Pune were denuded of their green cover and replaced by concrete living spaces. The green spaces inside the city started to feel smaller and smaller until I could not feel (not see) them anymore. The summer high went up from the high thirties that I had experienced as a young summer intern in 1999 to the mid forties in 2003. In the three years I lived in Pune, prime real estate went up from Rs. 970/sq ft to Rs 3500/sq. ft and all the while I felt my breathing space getting smaller.
The saving grace for us was the University of Pune where Anjali was pursuing her PhD. The university with its sprawling spaces and thickly wooded regions would be a few degrees cooler than the city outside its campus. I do wonder if the sudden rush to Mussoorie and the hill stations is because people want to escape their growing smaller with each day concrete confines
It would be foolish of me to suggest that cities should have more open green spaces. But I would say that India’s cities – especially the knowledge hubs have become too large. There is no space left within the city confines to green. But green spaces can still be created outside the city spaces. Incentives for homesteads around these green spaces would create ‘for rent’ liveable spaces. Cities’ citizenry would find joy in the vicinity of their own homes.
It will take the pressure off the touristy places and will lead to more sustainable existence. Even business owners in places like Mussoorie will be happy that the reason for their existence is sustaining and thriving. Economic development and high paying jobs need to move to smaller cities as well. It is simply unsustainable to have people migrate within their own country simply to get higher paying jobs. The models of incentives are well known and established and extending that model will cause high paying jobs to distribute more evenly.
As these towns and cities expand, incorporate green zoning (and protect it with state laws) such that municipalities and their controlling interests are not able to get around them. People should not ‘live to work’ instead they should ‘work to live’. When that happens, kindness will descend upon the citizenry and they will be able to share automatically. As regards to the citizenry of Mussoorie and such places, they need to ‘strike’ until their government makes tourism eco-friendly and sustaining.
Wishful thinking, but so was civil disobedience in colonial India, apartheid Africa and pre civil rights USA.
My two pennies,