Wednesday, May 02, 2012

We Want Everything, Period. [A short story]

“Who gives a damn about saving a bunch of cats out in some jungle?” Varun poured angrily at Rishabh. “They aren’t just any cats man, they are tigers. They are majestic. You know that! And since when does it matter what cats they are. They are animals, they have the right to live on that land just as any of us.” Rishabh said trying to sound polite but totally missing it. “We can be callous about such a thing sitting here in our comfortable conditioned air, but there are people out there who cannot be fed, because they can’t buy their own food. You know why, because they don’t have jobs. They haven’t had any idea what livelihood means.” Varun saw it very clearly & tried to shine a torch down Rishabh’s brain. But he sensed no activity through his eyes. 

“I understand that the people are poor & they need to be fed. That’s honorable, but do you really think that a national park, a beautiful forest needs to be destroyed for such industry?” Rishabh thought he was good at asking rhetorical questions, but Varun was too thick to understand the rhetoric. Varun looked at him furiously. He had taken it way too personally than the situation demanded. He was justified in taking it personally, because on this one his neck was way out there. His firm wouldn’t win that contract for constructing those factories if Rishabh didn’t sign in on the agreement, the agreement to use the forestland to build a swanky new Special Economic Zone. Rishabh’s influence in the upper house of the parliament was exactly what was needed to spearhead such a project on this scale. This was never heard of, not even in the most advanced & fastest growing nations in the world. This was a project that would create jobs for a million people & could sustain a metropolis with their livelihood. It was an ultimate experiment in economics by trying to inject supply into a system that was ready to begin consumption. 

Varun said, frustrated, folding the sleeves of his fifteen thousand rupee shirt, sorry, his $300 custom made shirt. He sat on Rishabh’s table to add emphasis by towering over him. Rishabh calmly, yet firmly sat in his chair holding his point in between them like an unlit cigarette. Varun tried to explain, “look, we can really help these people. We are going on all fours with this one. The mere amount of working capital that we need to raise, you could build 10 expressways with that. We are very committed to make this nation the best capitalist system anyone has ever seen. This is it for us Rishi.” Rishabh looked at the window, he saw dew gathered at the corners of the glass. He said, slowly, while exhaling the fictitious smoke, “That piece of forestland is the only one we have in this region to protect the tigers. Besides there are several dozen rare species of frogs & other animals, some of which haven’t even been cataloged yet. How do you wish to destroy such a pool of natural diversity with the aim that these people will eat better? I have nothing against those people, in fact I will be more than happy to find a man earn a decent living & live a dignified life, but what you are asking to do here, is to destroy a piece of nature. It is like asking your mother to cut some part of her heart just so she can feed you. There is no going back after this.” Rishabh was concerned not just about the impact of deforestation, but also about the fact that there is no way to re-create it anywhere else. 

“But what about civilization?” Varun asked in a very dejected tone of a child who was just denied the toy it craved for, for a thousandth time. “We really do care about the forest, but this location is pivotal. It is extremely close to the water source, where we plan to construct a massive dam, so that we can harness electricity, pollution free. We don’t contaminate anything, just delay the flow of the stream that’s all.” Varun said with a chuckle. “Once the power issue is solved we have hired the best architects from all over the world to build this nice green city for us, which will host it’s own conservation system to preserve water & electricity. There would be no waste.”

“Are your genius planners going to give an advance evacuation notice to the animals living there too?” Rishabh said mockingly. “I’d love to see a draft of that one.” Rishabh’s idea of a joke was not just to insult the hollow sense of respect that Varun showed, but the sheer pretentiousness of the way people looked at nature & it’s importance to us. People believe that the nature, this planet is separate from them, form their fate. People tend to believe that whatever is happening to this planet is not going to affect them, because living in a city forever has blocked their senses. There is no connection towards the world around them. It is like losing a sense, of touch, of smell, of sound, of taste. It is like forgetting what a breeze of fresh air feels like. People might as well be zombies, if they felt that the nature was not something worth protecting. And the dams & their pollution free power, what good is that, if there is no one left to breathe the fresh air?

Rishabh’s whole idea about the planet & what one species’ capacity to influence its fate was hinged upon a fact that unchecked deforestation has been responsible for the loss of a lot of species of animals & plants. All these extinct species were part of the same ecosystem that man is. They must have served some purpose in their chain of events. They must have been someone’s food & they must be eating something else. They were maintaining that unsaid balance. But now they are no more, for industry encroached & tore down their habitat. Any attempt to re-create that artificially for those species was merely keeping them alive for our scientific amusement. When it’s gone, it’s gone. The connection is severed, the link is lost, the umbilical cord is cut, and that event collapses on itself. That system will now have to find different ways to keep on doing what it used to do before. New food chains had to be forged, new habitats, new balance within this chaos.

While Varun pretended to be a capitalist, his idea was to destroy a resource to create another one for the betterment of only one species. The man, the homo economicus, the rational ape. Varun dreamed far ahead into the consequences of such an enterprise & how many people will get their livelihoods from this location. The want of man, that’s what he thought of. His principle philosophy was that of consumption feeding the need for creating supply. He only saw a few cogs in the bigger picture of man’s universe & mistook it for the whole thing. Pretending to be a capitalist in a socialist’s coat, he never really knew what he really was. He felt that capitalism was to allow better transfer of money from one place to the other, from one hand to the next. His idea of capitalism was to facilitate trade & grow industry for the betterment of civilization. But the nature of a true capitalist doesn’t merely end here. The capitalist, the captain of industry always considers the cost. There is a cost, not just of capital but the cost of economy, the cost of ecology & finally a cost on humanity. A self-sustainable industry; is a capitalist dream. 

“There is nothing wrong about man wanting more.” Rishabh said in a small voice. “You remember both of us growing up, don’t you? We had so little to begin with & we built it inch by inch, in our own separate ways. We never really looked back, have we?” Rishabh was almost apologetic. Varun lost the track of Rishabh’s line of thought, “How do you believe that was possible, our current state of being? We have been taking advantage of the same system of wants that I am trying to build here. We wanted & we could achieve it. The man has tremendous ingenuity & you know it. We can re-create a thousand such eco-systems if we wanted to. This is ‘the man’ we are talking about. The animal that eventually taught itself to speak, to grow food, to change its habitat. The only intelligent life on this planet that can even think about it’s repair. Do you think a tiger or a bunch of frogs would be able to think of such a thing?”  Varun continued with a tone of indifference, “Some species are always lost in the race of time. They don’t survive because perhaps they don’t mean to survive. Their extinction might be nature’s process of weeding them out. The humans removed them because nature is acting through us. Nature is directing us to remove unsustainable species & replace them with a much more sustainable one. I mean, we are part of that same nature, we are not different, are we?”

Rishabh couldn’t believe Varun’s logic, but chinks began to appear in his armor. Rishabh was on the verge of breaking down, but he held on. “These million jobs you are about to create, how do you think these million people feel about the nature that we are speaking of destroying?” “They don’t need to know” Varun replied quickly. “They don’t need to know in the same way you don’t need to know how the computer was made just because you choose to use it. They don’t need to know, because they can’t do anything about it even if they want to. They want everything. Period. Don’t you get this? They want to consume, they want to spend, for that they need money, they can earn it or they can rape, pillage or murder for it. Isn’t this industry a cleaner way to achieve that outcome?”

Rishabh drew a large breath as if he was about to inhale the entire room. “You make a lot of logical short cuts Varun, you always have. That’s why you can live with the consequences of your actions so easily. You don’t seem to understand that for every connection lost in nature, there may not be a new connection to replace it with. Where now you see deserts, there were forests with abundant diversity of life. What do you think made them into a desert? Even re-wiring a river to flow in another direction can change the future of an entire topography. Can destroy entire civilizations. Wars are fought for that sort of thing. Do you honestly believe that our planet needs to suffer for the consumption needs of a few million? Why not make a better plan to work around this problem, to make it more sustainable, spend a little more to make sure that you don’t disturb the natural order of things? We want everything too Varun, we want to survive with what we have & not regret later when it’s gone & we were too late to acknowledge its importance.”

Varun gasped as if it was his last breath, “You can’t fathom the kind of capital we are sinking into this. You bureaucrats have never understood how much it costs to create the development that we see. You never seem to notice the price we pay so that you can go abroad to give lectures about our country’s growth story. It is we on the frontlines, battling the fibrillations of the economy. We shape the future as you sell it to your voters. We have already paid the price you are asking us to pay.”

Rishabh said furiously, “Let me ask this one last time Varun, do these people whose consumption stories you are parading really understand what they are building their lofty towers on? Do they really understand what is the price we, as animals sharing this planet, have paid just so they could buy a better soap? Don’t you think they should know?”

Varun disregarded the whole line of thought, “Even if they knew they can’t stand across a fucking bulldozer when we would have pummeled the mountain. They can’t do anything, they haven’t done anything about it so far, and they just want everything. All we are doing is satisfy that want. For every demand, there has to be supply.”

Rishabh chuckled this time, “They can do much more than what you believe. They can vote. Why do you think you are talking to me right now? I represent their voice & I represent their choices. They might regret not having the television they wanted, but they won’t regret it if they still have the fresh air they are breathing, the clean water they are drinking & the food they are eating.”

Rishabh added emphatically, “We Want Everything. Period.”

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