Cultural, International, Life as it is, Literary, Political, Travel

Lockdown Love – Part Two

“When we were exploring each other’s background, we found that there were lots of common likings and dis-likings, common attributes between us. We were students of the same university, but she was one year junior to me. We had lots of students’ tittle-tattle to share,” said Adit. “Although the name Sudha was familiar to me from my contemporary male friends, as there were always so-called Romeos among my friends; but I never saw her and probably she never saw me. I gathered from those Romeos that she was a stunning beauty, but she was also very proud of her beauty and very conscious. She would not even talk to a male student whom she did not consider smart enough, or not interested in contemporary arts and literature and, of course, in contemporary music; just being a very good student and academically brilliant did not cut ice with her.”

“Was she one of those girls on high pedestal looking down on boys?” queried the Police Officer.

“Only, I guess, on cultural issues; that is what Sudha led me to believe. Financially, academically and socially she was just an ordinarily girl. Probably her family background had influenced her in molding her attitude. Her father was a prominent journalist. Her house was always journalists’ meeting place – editors, reporters, writers, poets and so forth used to throng in the house. On top of that, her father was a keen musician and used to organise musical soirees in the house on various occasions. Life was very pleasant and enjoyable for Sudha at that time. However, good days came to a shuddering halt when she was about 15”, said Adit.

“What happened, then?” asked the Police Officer.

“Her father suddenly died of cardiac arrest, although some suspect foul play. But no untoward elements had ever been found. That event was nonetheless extremely painful, heart-wrenching experience for her and an end of an era of cultural life in the house. That joyful home atmosphere left a lasting impression on her that would last all her life”, said Adit.

“In the university, the good and the bright boys in her department and in other departments approached her, with roses in their hands, so to say, but she would not budge except for an outwardly smart, culturally inclined boy. She fell in love with that boy, who was even one-year junior to her. Her presumption was that he was a budding poet and a writer.”

The whiskies and cashew nuts were served at that point and they had a little sip. They were only couple of hours in to their journey.

Adit continued, “Although Sudha studied political science at the university, she embraced cultural life whole-heartedly. Her boy-friend was a rather pretentious poet with hardly any accomplishment. He projected himself as a poet of great promise and associated himself with established and semi-established poets and writers of the day. That pleased Sudha to no ends. She welcomed the budding poet with warm hearts along with his writer friends to her house in order to create an atmosphere of cultural life, which the untimely demise of her father drew to an abrupt end. Not long after the completion of her university education, they got married.”

“Sounds like it is heading towards a happy ending”, said the Police Officer.

“Far from it. That was the beginning of the tragedy. After the wedding reception at a local hotel, the couple had nowhere to go for the night. A relative attending the party, out of pity, offered them a place in his house for few nights, they had no honeymoon. Married life could not have started worse than this for a girl like her”.    

“Did she say all these things to you on the telephone?” enquired the Police Officer.

“Yes, everything and much more. The vagrant husband would not do any work to earn his living. He would beg money from Sudha so that he could pursue his so-called literary career, but more likely to continue with his vagabond life! Sudha took a job at a local college to maintain some semblance of a married life. But the money was not enough to have a separate abode and so Sudha and her husband had to move in to her mother’s house”.

“You are right, it is getting worse and depressing”, said the Police Officer. Then he said, “I am going to the toilet and be back in a minute.”

Adit then looked around. The front two rows were empty as well as the back row. This separation from other passengers gave Adit a feeling of privacy in the plane. He started sipping his whisky again.

The Police Officer then returned to his seat and said, “Sorry for the interruption. Would you please continue with the story?”

“Are all Police Officers good listeners like you?” enquired Adit.

“Who knows? Investigative Police Officers always like to hear interesting stories. They can detect any gaps, mishaps and mis-statements.”

Adit was somewhat surprised by his statement but continued unabated.

“Life for Sudha was going from bad to worse. Her husband had no job, no earning. But he used to go out of the house in the morning and not return till well in the evening. He would not disclose even to Sudha, what he did throughout the whole day. Sudha also did not press hard and intrude into his personal life for the sake of family peace. Around two years after the marriage, Sudha had the first baby. But her husband would not change his lifestyle at all. His vagabond lifestyle continued while Sudha had to assume the role of the bread winner for the family.”

“That was a terrible situation. How long did it continue?” asked the Police Officer.

“When the baby boy was about three years old, her husband started coming home very late at night and sometimes not at all. Sudha was obviously very distraught. In one-night, past midnight, there was a knock at the front door. Sudha was alarmed. Anyway, she opened the door and there were a few policemen in front of the door with a search warrant and an arrest warrant for her husband. Her husband was declared a terrorist. However, he was not in the house and so he escaped arrest.” Then Adit continued, “Few nights later, in the early part of the morning, her husband came to the house totally dishevelled and said in a hushed voice that he would have to leave the country and when he would be able to come back, he did not know. Sudha broke down in tears, she begged him to take her and the boy with him. He could not do that. Eventually, with Sudha’s mother intervention, it was agreed that the family and friends would try their best to get visas to a foreign country for all three of them.” “A couple of weeks later, all three of them flew to Bangkok en route to New York. That was mid 1970s”, said Adit. “How they managed to get the visa for the whole family so quickly was a mystery to me.”

However, in America, in New Jersey to be precise, they found a tranquil life for some time. Her husband found a job as a courtyard attendant at a patrol station and she as a nursery teacher. So, life settled down to a rather peaceful non-turbulent life. They had a daughter in early 1980s. But her husband was getting restless and disheartened that his writings were of no value in America, there was no appreciation whatsoever of his work. Sudha also was not getting the buzz of a cultural hub in her house. Her dream of a centre of cultural activities, musical soiree etc were in tatters. So, it was agreed that her husband would go back to his native country and Sudha with children would stay in America until they finish their education. Once her husband established himself as a poet and a writer in his country, Sudha would join him and lead a life full of song and music”.

(to be continued)

Astrophysics, Disasters - natural and man-made, Economic, Environmental, International, Life as it is, Technical

Our frontier mentality and the Future of Earth

No one witnessed the birth of Earth. The Earth does not have a birth certificate to authenticate its age. But there is no doubt about Earth’s antiquity. It is 4.55 billion years old. In the context of the Universe which burst into existence 13.7 billion years ago, Earth is in its early middle age. It will live for another five billion years, when the Sun will become a Red Giant, swallowing the nearby planets and ending its luminous career by dwindling into a white dwarf.

Although Earth is very small—a mote of dust—in the vast cosmic arena, it is the only planet that is filled with exquisite beauty, a cornucopia of boisterous wildlife slithering, scampering, soaring and swimming all over the planet. It showcases timeless marvels—a panoply of wonders—sculpted by Nature over millions of years. It is home to towering mountains, alpine glaciers, lush green rainforests, subtropical wilderness and millennia-old humongous trees, gushing geysers, beautiful coral reefs, lofty waterfalls and pristine lakes. The Earth is also home to incredible sandstone arches, deep canyons, varicoloured petrified wood and multi-hued badlands, massive caves filled with imposing stalagmites and stalactites, sparsely vegetated and colourfully painted deserts, gigantic sand dunes, and hundreds of species of flora and fauna.

Evidence of life—bacteria and single-celled organisms—date to 3.85 billion years ago. Since then, life suffered wave after wave of cataclysmic extinctions. The dinosaurs are perhaps the most famous extinct creatures who roamed the Earth’s surface unchallenged during the Mesozoic Era. After surviving for nearly 165 million years, they became victims of the greatest mass deaths in the history of our planet 65 million years ago when a large asteroid hit the Earth.

About 25 million years ago, most of the present day species emerged. Now, fast forward to about two million years ago and we see the evolution of our ancestors—upright, biped, primate mammals. Evidence shows that modern humans originated in Africa within the past 200,000 years, yet there was no move toward high level civilisation. It was the Sumerians of Mesopotamia who developed the world’s first civilisation roughly 6,000 years ago.

We have had the planet to ourselves for a small fraction of time. During this short time interval, we outfoxed other species in the game of survival. Maybe they ran out of luck in evolution’s lottery, or perhaps sometime in the distant past, we became completely dissociated from the checks and balances between man and nature and became a super-predator.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution circa 1760, we made a toxic mess of our natural environment, resulting in an ever-hotter climate, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, widespread droughts, frequent and much wilder storms, crop failures and tens of millions of climate refugees. Our unrestrained use of fossil fuels for more than a century had been slowly pushing the planet toward climatological catastrophe.

Today, we are fixated on enjoying the present and refusing to account for the consequences of our actions on tomorrow. Social scientists interpret this type of behaviour as frontier ethic, prevalent in Western culture as well as others. This ethic embraces a rather narrow view of humans in the environment and even a narrower view of nature. It is characterised by three tenets.

The first is that the Earth has an infinite supply of resources for exclusive human use. There is always more and it is all for us; humans are apart from nature and immune to natural laws; and human success derives from the control of nature.

This tenet no doubt evolved in the prehistoric time when human numbers were small and the Earth’s resources did indeed appear inexhaustible. Not anymore. The massive increase in economic activity and the upsurge in population growth in the last 200 years have brought us face-to-face with the planet’s limitations.

The second tenet sought to position humankind outside the realm of nature. Many people still continue to view human beings as separate from nature and persist in thinking we can do whatever we please without harming the planet. To the contrary, our independence is an illusion, engendered by our remoteness from a world we see through rose-coloured glasses and thermo-paned windows.

As for the third tenet, industrialised nations view nature as a force that must be conquered and subjugated. Hence, we manipulated wildlife, fisheries, land, rivers, oceans and forests like so many pieces in a board game, until the environment reached a dangerous point of disequilibrium.

Over the years, the frontier ethic permeated our lives so much that we became more remote from the natural world outside our artificial environments. It influences our personal goals and expectations without thinking about the effects on the long-term health of the planet.

It cannot be overemphasised that the fate of the planet, our home, and the millions of species that share it with us, as well as the fate of all future generations, lies in our hands. Do we realise that because of resource and ozone depletion, global warming and other problems, the human species will be wiped off the face of the planet if we do not change our lifestyles? At the least, things will deteriorate to the extent that we could lose centuries of technological and economic progress in the next few decades. Our wonderfully diverse biological world, the product of billions of years of evolution, could be eradicated in a fraction of the Earth’s history.

So, what should we do to keep the planet habitable for our future generations? Scientists have urged world leaders in vain to combat global-warming emissions, which have only continued to soar upward. Should we instead rely on a pandemic, such as the coronavirus that is shutting down countries across the globe, slowing down economic activities, halting industrial productions and travel, thereby causing a significant decline in air pollution and carbon/nitrogen emissions all over the world?

The coronavirus pandemic is a tragedy—a palpable human nightmare unfolding in overloaded hospitals with alarming speed, racing toward a horizon darkened by economic disaster and chock-full of signs showing more sufferings to come. This global crisis is also an eye-opener for the other global crisis, the slower one with even higher stakes—anthropogenic climate change.

The cure due to coronavirus is temporary and totally unacceptable, whereas the threat from the adverse effects of climate change will remain with us for years, unless we shape up pronto. Nevertheless, coronavirus should make us wonder if lessons learned from the pandemic might be the beginning of a meaningful shift from business-as-usual attitude.

On this International Mother Earth Day, let us pause for a moment and imagine what the Earth would look like when it will be bereft of mirth, when there will be no wilderness and wildlife, when lakes will be filled with sudsy waters, when coastlines will become unrecognisable and when the air will become a witch’s brew. Can our planet still be called Earth? The answer is no, because we do not have the insight to predict the consequences of our frontier mentality and exercise restraint where we must.

I end the piece with the following words of wisdom from the Native American Chief Seattle. “The Earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the Earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Quamrul Haider is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.