A few weeks ago a close friend had come home for a weekend with her 12 year old son. In one of our outings I said the beauty of Bangalore is its weather. The 12 year old shot back ‘but it does not matter. I am a 21st century kid”. I was amused and confused at the start. In retrospect it was pure stupidity. But, I decided to probe further and get into an argument. I asked “why does weather not matter to a 21st century kid”. The 12 year old shot back “I live in Air Con and the weather outside is irrelevant”.
It is true isn’t it? In most of our big cities, our kids are growing up with complete abandon to nature. Malls, centrally air conditioned spaces, schools which are cocooned in concrete and houses where gadgets ensure there is minimal cerebral or physical activity required to keep one occupied. Then, when we miss a bit of nature we go on an expensive vacation to the hills or a forest. There we pay and get five (four or three depending on our bank balance) star protection. We will step out for a bit near a river for a few hours and claim “we love nature”!
The trouble is, in the age of internet and technology, we have slowly cut ourselves from what has produced and nurtured us as a race. Even more appalling is that we ensure that our next generation is more cut off than we were. The western civilizations are a couple of generations ahead of us in this ‘cutting off from nature’ curve. But, have we learnt anything from the troubles and perils faced by those ahead of us? Or are we merely going to follow them.
In the midst of these thoughts and armed with a stupid belief that I am older and wiser I continued my engagement with the 12 year old. I told him “O.K. you are a 21st century kid and don’t need weather, but if you won’t step out of the A.C who is going to make the food you eat? Surely to grow food you need to get out of A.C”. The kid would not let me feel superior even for a micro second. He shot back “There would be farms in controlled temperature environments or we would find a gadget that ensures we don’t feel hungry”. Like a fool I persisted “But you can’t eat a gadget and you need food, water and air to survive”. He hit back again within a second “We may find tablets that replace food or energy bars and machine produced burgers that need not be grown in farms!! And finally who needs water we’ll have coke”!
As I gave up and conceded defeat to the 12 year old I was left anxious. Have we become so arrogant that as a human race we take the basic things of life for granted and what has this arrogance cost us? Do we really believe that making money and making software would keep us alive? When I read debates between models of growth in economics, I am pushed to believe that it should ideally be models of social thought and not growth.
Consider our cities and what we define as security. Most of the Indian middle and upper classes have been buying and investing plots of land around our ever growing cities. Making money out of land by rendering it useless is more important than making food out of it. Rural schools produce students who want to imitate those of us who have already become creatures of the concrete jungles. The idea of progress is defined as those who have made millions in the cities. Today, it’s strenuous to find a young farmer. Most of those who till their lands are in their early 50’s and upwards. The younger ones are making plans to sell their lands and move into the cities. Eventually who will grow food ?
The fear and prediction of the future we will have on this path has even had a visual representation. It seems like the imaginary “Kryptonians” from where superman came. Even in that imagined, film maker’s version of an advanced race there is a warning that krypton disintegrated and yet, we will refuse to learn our lessons. When you do everything artificial you run the risk of cutting yourself completely from what brought us this far. In that we run the risk of complete annihilation.
Call it the ‘superman syndrome’. It is when man believes that he can control the environment he lives in. He believes that he has the power to script the process of his life. Yes, men have built environments and largely in our cities we live in such belief that we would get the resources we need. If there is no ground water we will transport it. When we need electricity we will have nuclear reactors and when the climate becomes harsh we will turn to air conditioners. But, can we sustain and prevail over nature all the time? And most important is when the ability to control the environment begins to control us as a race?
It’s not enough to turn to ayurveda, naturopathy, morning walks and planting trees. What is required is a complete change of priorities and a realization that the Human is just part of a large and complex universe. The more we cut off from it, the more we will be alone as a race and the more we are alone the faster we will perish. So maybe it is time to redefine economic models of growth with a strong sense of the cost and risk it takes to keep going the way we are. The reformation has to be sociological, economic, philosophical and psychological.
There are a sensible few who are returning to preserve what is left of the connection we have to the universe and there are many who take us further away from our basics with their arguments of ‘floor space index” and sky scrapers and economic growth.
Obviously there are many who have warned us of the dangers of following the path we have taken and among them was a frail man called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He was a visionary who outlined a road map and a seer who predicted that we would face all the social, personal, political and economic problems that we face today because we chose a path that would only lead to this. Ironically, we listen to our fathers a little too late in our lives and it still does not seem too late.