Tuesday, November 4, 2008

How Green is Your Valley?

My last journey from the Calcutta airport to my in-laws’ in the Eastern-Bypass is still vivid in my memory. I remember how overjoyed I was to be back home, to be in the city of joy, dreams and a feel-good sloth. As my cabbie embarked upon the highway, the Ambujas and the Hindujas ushered me with their dreams unfold: their astute billboards lure of a lifestyle that was unconceivable by the middle-class Bengalis not so long ago. They promise a living amid greenery, lakes, parks and boutique condominiums.
But reality hit me hard in my nostrils. I diverged my glance only to be smeared by gushes of smoke emitted by a racing mini bus, honking away to glory. People say that it’s carbon monoxide, I didn’t know for sure what it was, but the fumes emitted by the antique engine of the deranged vehicle left me nauseated for a good twenty minutes. By the time I regained consciousness, our cab was amongst the last ten in a long queue at the traffic signal. The cabbie mentioned nonchalantly, “there is a rally at the Science City and a subsequent protest by some other political wing”. I nodded in understanding but longed to meet my family, to crash out on my age-old bed. I gazed at the myriads of building crowding the skyline with awe. When did it all happen? Wasn’t there a lake before? And a soothing green patch just beside the road? And what about all the foliage that grew unreckoning? As far as my vision go, I could only find concrete and metals, buildings and hotels and hospitals…The lonely Gulmohar tree at the roadside looked glum, tainted and devoid of virility. Much like the fellow Calcuttans I spotted on the pavements.
I recalled the shocking statistics divulged by the BBC that some 70% of people in the city of Calcutta suffer from respiratory disorders caused by air pollution. That the ideal count of Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) and Respiratory Particulate Matter (RPM) should not exceed 140 and 60 respectively. But Calcutta's average SPM count is 211 and RPM count is 105. And in the worst polluted traffic intersections, this count can be double the city's average during busy hours! It also said that 79% of hawkers who spend a long time outdoors have suffered damaged lungs…
Finally, we were in motion again. We sped through unruly intersections into a bumpy pathway with incessant interference by the two wheelers, bicycles, rickshaws and pedestrians. We stopped again and I noticed a toddler splashing in a reddish pool of muddy water, seeping in from a damaged water pipe. Just then, to my utter horror, I found a woman, maybe his mother, drinking from the same pipe! I shut my burning eyes but my conscience displayed the explicit headline, “14 villages in South Bengal were affected by chronic arsenic toxicity. A high level of arsenic was detected in the water from shallow tubewells (24-36 meters deep) used by those affected…” Was this place also mentioned in one of the subsequent reports? I hope not.
We traversed yet a few miles until we reached a red light in Patuli-intersection. I jarred from my slumber. Someone somewhere sounded very annoyed. He screamed with his lungs out in order to apprise the fellow citizens of his annoyance. The loud speaker reverberated with élan, surpassing all other background noise. It went on and on. Gosh, Calcuttans have mustered extreme level of tolerance! I remember, it was way back in April 1996, the Calcutta High Court gave strict directions to the West Bengal Pollution Control Board and Calcutta Police to be very vigilant against Noise Pollution. It’s being over a decade now since that order was passed but like everything else in this godforsaken city, rules and regulations have gone to the doldrums. Needless to say, my journey only brings back guileless memory of the mauled effigy that Calcutta showcase at present.
Today is 5th June. World Environment Day. I am sitting thousands of miles away from the city of my birth, the city which is witnessing a worse holocaust with more than 5 million Calcuttans suffocating to death. I sit with a hapless knot at the gut of my existence.
Where are those lush lawns that the billboards advertised? In which pocket, in which island in the gray smog are they going to build an unsoiled nest?
To quote my favorite singer, “the answer my friend is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind…”

1 comment:

Someone Is Special said...

Realy a great post, came here via your interview in WeBlog. You are an awesome writer..

--Someone Is Special--