Primary Motifs – Monalisa Changkija
It is said that today there is an explosion of creativity, much boosted by science and technology. I do not dispute that. My question is: in the larger scheme of human life and living how much have we moved from point A to B? And, is it possible to move from point A to B and much beyond if our planet stands on a precipice of devastation and calamity?
It hadn’t rained in low-lying Dimapur and adjoining areas since October 2020 till early March 2021. And when it rained, it was tentative and failed to quench the soul. Normally, January and February are the coldest months in this part of Nagaland, especially because the first rains of the year would be torrential – no, not like the monsoon rains of course but they had their own potency to bathe the earth, clean the stale air of the just concluded festivities and chill the bones right up to the marrow. March would see a few sunny days but many a chilly night and April would be bright and bracing – though inevitably the time around Good Friday and Easter would be thunderous and stormy. And then the temperature would rise slowly but surely in May. But May would also be dry, dipping the water levels in our wells, ponds, lakes and rivers. By June, when the monsoon rains descend, temperatures would drop but the humidity will soar and then we live through four to five months of pure torture of intermittent downpours and relentless hot days. It wasn’t so bad like this till about 35 to 40 years ago but it became our “normal”. Since last October, this “normal” seems to have changed – possibly ushering in another “normal”. But I wouldn’t call it a “new normal” because we don’t know what is “normal” – for clearly generations upon generations have not the slightest clue about “normal” against the backdrop of what has been happening and is happening across the globe environmentally.
It is only in the past few decades we in the Northeast are learning about climate change but even today most of us perceive the effects of climate change as “vagaries of Nature”. It may be so but why is Nature so upset and throwing tantrums that are destroying lives and livelihoods? Who and what has provoked Mother Nature? From the little we are learning about our environment, our planet had a very different look and feel even less than a century ago. In fact, those of us who have lived over half a century or more can vouch that our home doesn’t look and feel the same anymore. Development? Progress? I don’t know. Not when our fruits and vegetables don’t have the same taste and timbre. They just look good, that’s all – just like us. Inside they and we are desiccated and insipid. Reminds me also of the branded apparels that have standardized our appearances, minds and behaviour – much like factory-produced androids. Vagaries of development and progress? I don’t know. It is said that today there is an explosion of creativity, much boosted by science and technology. I do not dispute that. My question is: in the larger scheme of human life and living how much have we moved from point A to B? And, is it possible to move from point A to B and much beyond if our planet stands on a precipice of devastation and calamity? Obviously, by “we”, I mean all 7+ billions of us, not only those who are privileged. The lived experiences of people around us, the scenes of deprivation, disease and death, besides the insanity-spawning isolation, during the lockdown imposed after the coronavirus pandemic last year and the brutality of laws dehumanizing people underscore the unbridgeable distance between points A and B.
It was the small patches of vegetable gardens in our homes, even in a “privileged” neighbourhood like mine, which we nurtured in the winter of 2019 that sustained us during the lockdown till almost May-June last year and there was enough to share with neighbours and many in need. The winter crop of 2020 simply burnt out because it hadn’t rained since October last year. Here I am talking about the small vegetable gardens almost every Naga household has – more as a hobby – but something that sustains us and saves paisas and the environment, I would like to believe. For a basically agrarian culture and economy such as ours – even if we have pretensions to living urban lives – the impact of climate change is frightening. Imagine the plight of our farmers who depend on the soil for livelihood. And, I wouldn’t go into the impact of our farmers’ agitation across the country at the national level now. But that’s not what our political parties are talking about in their campaigns for elections in five States, are they? They and all of us must talk about our planet on the brink of destruction and disaster, food and survival more than any other issue that we often mistakenly believe are more crucial to human survival – even development and progress. So, perhaps it is our misplaced priorities that impede us from moving from point A to point B? Not that I have moved much from point A to B at a personal level but even at the cost of being castigated, sued and summoned to all kinds of courts and shot to death, for me the timely arrival of sufficient rains is more important than the Naga peace talks and/or our “war” with Pakistan or China. Having said that, I wonder if I have the freedom to put down my opinion in black and white or have just invited myself to be tried under sedition laws.
But that’s another issue we need to talk about now, especially as campaigning for elections to five crucial states have begun. How critical are the political parties’ promise and their grand-standing on so many issues juxtaposed with issues of human rights, freedom of speech and all other freedoms, rights and liberties, including environmental rights and laws, guaranteed by the Constitution? What matters most to the people on one hand and to most political parties on the other? Is there a convergence of interests and benefits between the two or are we talking at cross purposes because we live in different worlds? Whose narratives, values, interests and concerns are being centre-staged, spot-lighted and mainstreamed? Why? If a few free sarees or a few units of free electricity determine votes then we surely have much reason to step back and rethink the foundations and value-system on which our lives depend and on which direction our nation is headed? In Nagaland, we have been persuaded by our political parties that once an honourable settlement to the Naga issue has arrived at, all would be hunky-dory and that they are the only ones capable and competent to bring about such a settlement. But all these decades, such a settlement is still awaited and though all of them were given chances, they still continue to prove their incapability and incompetence. And, not much has changed. Yet we buy what hasn’t worked out. Are we fools or what?
So then, what has all these got to do with the rains that refuse to pour and climate change? Well, simple common sense says without the rains, without salvaging our planet, we cannot salvage ourselves. And, those who survive in a barren and parched earth will end their days harbouring desolate dreams and futile hopes – fighting over water with sticks and stones. Political parties and their development and progress must address this. And, “we, the people” must face our rain-less days to create our “normal” and pray that the rains will descend on us to help us become human.