Uncity in the City

Uncity in the City

Contributor : Mariam Karim Ahlawat (reprinted)

I was to wait outside a school which was hosting a competitive exam in RK Puram New Delhi. Hot dusty April, the hottest in decades, swirled about. This school is in one of the narrow old lanes of the colony built years and years ago. I got out of the car to look for the gate the children were to use. Many other parents stood about with anxious faces. Suddenly a fragrance I had known as a child assailed my nostrils..the sweet, all too sweet fragrance of wild figs. An orchestra of chirpings and chirruppings and cheepings seemed to be playing—I looked up to see an immense, goolar tree, the ficus indica, spreading its long boughs laden with the ripening fruit . And in the branches there was nearly every species of bird that inhabits the trees of New Delhi: parrots, mynahs, brahminy mynahs, white-eyes, pigeons, green pigeons, bulbuls, sunbirds, babblers, and even kingfishers ! And of course there were the squirrels running up and down the branches, bobbing their tails, going from fruit to fruit, testing  their ripeness!  The cool shade offered by the old spreading tree and the delicacies of the wild fruit along with the insects they attract provided a heavenly arbor for all these creatures –  a rarity in the city today. I can say the wait outside the school was a wonderful treat indeed. Yet I found few people looking up, caring if there was a sweet orchestra of birds playing, noticing that here in real life was a programme in progression which they might watch with interest on Discovery or Animal Planet… in fact there was a man in a long expensive car parked under the tree, windows up, AC switched on, chatting away on his cell-phone. The air around the car was getting extremely hot because of the AC.

He opened his window for a moment to look out and see if the exam time was over and if any children were emerging from the gate. I took the opportunity to approach him – I told him it was very cool under the shade of the tree, there was no need to keep the AC on, and it was in any case adding to the heat all around. I pointed out to him the variety of birds in the tree. I said “Your child will go to a premier Institute of Technology, so at least a little awareness of the environment on your part won’t go amiss”.  He looked nonplussed for a minute, but luckily for me he smiled, and agreed that he shouldn’t be using his AC.

I realize that our day to day lives do not include awareness of our immediate surroundings any more. We think about the traffic, the petrol we spend, the time taken to get from one place to another, the movie we must watch in the evening, the contacts we must make for our various businesses,  the money we owe or someone owes us, the mobile bill…anything at all. It is obviously foolish and without profit to look up into a bird-filled tree. What good will that do us? Leave it to ornithologists.

We are no longer excited by the life that exists around us, and that is why we are losing it so quickly. A grown woman watching birds and squirrels? When her son is sitting for such an important exam on which his entire future may depend? She must certainly be soft in the head!

No, we do not live in the world any longer, we live in flats and cars and malls and

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Mariam Karim-Ahlawat – co-host of the Himalayan Writing Week, April 2017.

restaurants and keep the world out. We are afraid of the heat and the cold and the dust and we shut ourselves in cocoons and refuse to live each moment. When we feel spiritless and hollow inside of ourselves, we run to gurus and babas and chanting groups and kirtans and samagams…now even psychotherapists—when just around the corner, Nature provides beauty, harmony, melody, joy, relief from stress, in little pockets that still exist in the teeming cities.

 

We look desperately for God in human gatherings and we ignore, neglect and abuse the world God created. Spirituality can lie only in the preservation of Nature and all creatures great and small, with the lives of which our lives are intimately linked; otherwise search where we may, inner peace and harmony will always elude us.

About the contributor: Mariam Karim-Ahlawat is a published author and playwright and will be co-hosting the Himalayan Writing Week in the Kumaon Himalayas in April 2017. To learn more about her, please visit www.himalayanwritingretreat.com/#facilitators . Mariam lived in Delhi.

This article was originally printed in the Times of India Supplement under a different title, and is republished with the author’s permission.

The meta scent of spring

The meta scent of spring

Contributor : Chicu Lokgariwar

Spring. It is here. Time for buds to unfurl themselves, for bees to emerge hungrily from their homes, and for the farmer to dust off the household can of  ‘Meta’. There’s something very wrong with this picture here.

All around the Chatola-Sitla area (and beyond), farmers are getting ready to spray their peach trees with what is called ‘Meta’. This is done to prevent leaf curl, which all the peach trees in the area are plagued by. Sadly, spraying is not only ineffective but also counterproductive. The spring spraying is also possibly the worst thing we can do for our orchards.

Here’s why.

Know thy enemy: The first thing to know about the infestation of leaf curl is that it’s not. An infestation, that is.  It is a fungal disease. We first see it when the leaves turn red and

infected-peach-leaf
A peach leaf with the fungal  curl

unsightly. That is when it is too late to do anything about it. Germination of the spores happens in autumn, which is when we need to act.  These spores are released when the cell walls of the infected leaves rupture and they then settle on the surfaces of the tree.

 

Here is more (a lot more) about peach curl: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7426.html

Managing curl: This is a two-step process. First, we need to stop the spores from spreading, and then we need to control any that have already spread.

To stop them from spreading, ideally we would pluck off diseased leaves and burn them. This is the best option because we destroy the spores while they are still contained within the leaves. Given the scale of the problem, though, it is near-impossible to do it at the orchard level. At the least we need to rake up and burn (not compost!) any fallen peach leaves. This is an important step for controlling the spread.

Secondly, we need to spray. A copper-based fungicide is the only effective measure against peach curl.  Spraying is done as soon as the leaves fall, before the new leaf buds set. Several copper-based fungicides are available on the market (for us, the closest I’ve found is Kaladhungi Chauraha, Haldwani). While not entirely safe for wildlife (especially earthworms), copper fungicides are less toxic than insecticides. Even better, since it’s toxicity levels are low enough for the treatment to qualify as ‘organic’, is Bordeaux mixture.

Here’s how to make it: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7481.html .

Incidentally, for those of you who are frustrated by black spot on your Old Roses, that too is a fungus, and these measures work well for that too.

Know thy other enemy: This comes disguised as our old friend ‘Meta’. Officially known as ‘Metasystox’, the preparation is an insecticide and a miticide. In other words, it is absolutely ineffective against peach curl. It is effective against aphids, but it inflicts so much collateral damage that I would not use it at all.

Because Metasystox is toxic.

It is toxic to humans and needs to be handled with extreme care, which almost no one practices here. Here is more about it: http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/insect-mite/mevinphos-propargite/oxydemeton-methyl/insect-prof-oxydem-methyl.html

Further,  Metasystox is harmful to pollinators. The ‘quick knockdown effects’ that they have mentioned in the article? We see it every year in the form of dead bees. While this is terrible from a biodiversity point of view, it is also bad orchard management. Pollinators, as we all know, are indispensable allies to enable fruit-set. A mass-scale killing of bees and other pollinators, while poisoning ourselves, during flowering seasons, is so misguided that it is tragic.  Please don’t.

About Chicu Lokgariwar

Chicu has been working on sustainable resource management, especially water, since 2000. Uncity Chicu presently lives in Chatola with her husband, dog and ever-increasing flock of chickens. Chicu writes about water for the India Water Portal and blogs about the gardening life.

The Difficulty of being Sexy

The Difficulty of being Sexy

Contributor : Gurcharan Das Chetan Mahajan

I always had this belief that I was really good-looking. Somehow, the world at large seemed to disagree.  Until now.

The call from the casting company changed everything. It started with a facebook post looking for a 45+ marathon runner for an ad film, went on to an online audition and finally culminated in me sitting in the airport lounge typing out this post, en route to Mumbai and the beautiful world beyond.

The moment the casting company confirmed the assignment, I felt an overwheming urge to end world hunger single-handedly based on my fabulous good looks. I now notice my ridiculously handsome reflection in every mirror and glass I walk past. And am seriously considering launching my own line of fragrances and deodorants. I can’t wait for my name to be in every underarm in the world.

The village is no place for a budding model – the supply of beauty and skin-care products is so limited. But I went to our local store and bought an exfoliating scrub, the age defying cream and some other random cosmetics – even though I couldn’t read much of what was written on the labels (reading glasses really don’t fit in this new world you see). The other stuff was okay but I really didn’t like the age defying cream. It tasted horrible, which was shocking given it was more expensive than a whole tandoori chicken. Of course the next stop was the salon to have my hair styled.

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Irfaan ki Dukaan. The best (and only) Salon in our Village.

Many other cosmetic concerns emerged. Will I have to start using skin lightening cream? But the mirror told me sex appeal oozed from my dusky hue, so I decided against it. The casting guy had loved me just the way I was. And will I have to shave off my chest hair and stop eating puris? I hate shaving even my face. Then I remember Sean Connery with relief – at least for the chest hair. I wonder what the Hollywood Scottish do for Puris, though.

I am really looking forward to being at the shoot, although I guess I won’t have much to do but hang around and look pretty.

Letting such raw sexuality loose in a rural setting, however, is not without risk.  The other day as I caught my own reflection in the window pane, I pouted. I noticed some movement outside the window and heard a crashing sound. I rushed outside to find a cow had fallen over outside the glass I was pouting at.  As I bent down to take a closer look at the cow, the bovine beauty made a sudden jerking movement. I swear she was trying to kiss me. I guess it was just my irresistible animal magnetism.

The cow will eventually get over it and return to normal quite quickly. But I wonder how long it will take me.

The guy who wrote this post, along with his more talented but less good-looking colleagues host the Himalayan Writing Retreats – a variety of events on writing, blogging and podcasting at gorgeous Himalayan locales. You can learn more at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com.

Time is precious. Waste it wisely.

Time is precious. Waste it wisely.

Heartstrings. The word is meaningless unless you have a pacemaker. I always thought of it as one of those unnecessary words writers make up – until I heard that voice yesterday.

It was the sing-song of her typical Kumaoni way of speaking that made me smile. It was the sound of simplicity, of an unhurried, uncomplicated life. It was the sound of home. I did not ask her name, but I did will her to speak some more. She did, asking the price of the bhindi, and asking why the beans weren’t fresh. I then caught the shopkeeper staring at me and I realized I was staring at the cabbage with a big smile plastered on my face. He looked carefully at the cabbage and then back at me.

I was at a vegetable store in Bhimtal, headed back home after many more days than were

road-neo
The road home.

necessary. And hearing the lyrical Kumaoni lilt of her voice triggered a joyful jangle inside me that I could almost physically hear. It was like some latent thing inside me was suddenly awakened, resonating with the music of beautiful memories. And suddenly “heartstrings” made perfect sense.

 

Maybe 38 days in the land of pubs, imported custom kitchens and business conversations was too much. Maybe it was just the knowledge that many of the meals I had with friends in the city cost more than a month’s salary for my friends in the village. Maybe the fast-talking, deal seeking “fame, success, money” types were just way too much work for my rustic soul. I pined for the land where speedpost takes 5 days, and no other courier works. A place where it isn’t strange to sit and have tea and a conversation with the postman when he brings your mail.

I missed the land of rustic familiarity. And the woman’s beautiful Kumaoni song-voice started the journey of my return, triggering the feeling of being back home. Everyone along way was a friend.  After the vegetable store my next stop was the grocery store in Bhowali – the man there asked me about my prolonged absence. I then drove further on, and at one point crossed my contractor and architect headed in the opposite direction. We both stopped our cars, stepped out, shook hands, and talked briefly. They weren’t just helping me build my new home, but we shared a strange kinship. Like we were the few that knew the secret of the mountains.

I remember the look of envy on the faces of city people who see pictures of my home. And a few lines form in my head:

You chose the huge car, the massive house

Take pleasure in that hi-tech Bluetooth mouse

Why then, the Famous Grouse?

Village folks along the way ask for a lift. I give a ride to everybody who asks till my car is full. As I chat with them, I can feel the city with its 100 rupee teacups slowly peel off me and fall away like unwanted dead skin.

I feel new again. And I wonder, why did I ever leave?

Tha above video is the dawn I came back to.

Dark spots on the Himalayan sun

Dark spots on the Himalayan sun

Contributor : Vandita Dubey

The dark spots on our bright Himalayan sun began to appear rather suddenly, well over a year after we moved to Kumaon. One instant, everything was idyllic –  the clouds floating in and out of the valleys – and our house – during the monsoons, the snow covered Himalayan ghosts hover in the clear blue winter skies across the horizon. In the aftermath of city life, people of the villages also seemed kinder, gentler, more honest. Then like unwelcome guests, a series of unfortunate incidents in the neighbourhood left us all feeling uncomfortable. The picture is still the same but with the soft, diffused light gone, the sharp, jagged edges have become more obvious.

This year, between the end of summer and beginning of winter, our small community witnessed three unnatural deaths.  A young man from a neighbouring village was found dead with wounds on his body. An amorous couple’s extra marital sex videos made it to the cell phones of a bunch of village folk. And the following day, which happened to be the festival of Rakshabandhan, ended with the wife consuming poison. This resulted in the husband being sent to jail and three teenaged children left to fend for themselves. Diwali eve brought the most heartbreaking news of all – a young 7-year-old boy, an only child who studied in the same school as our kids, was killed instantaneously in an accident. The motorcycle he was riding on with his parents was thrown over the cliff by a pickup truck driven by three drunk youth from the same district who also did not survive this accident. What are the chances that the one vehicle you come across on these empty, winding roads should be the one that takes your life!

All these events have been shocking for us, but are barely news worthy for a big city. I have struggled to make sense of why these incidents have caused us so much distress. We have lived in various big cities in India and abroad and have heard of all kinds of crime, but why do these incidents seem more jarring? Maybe it is because incidents of violence in the city are treated as accepted, expected parts of life – perhaps because the victims are often unknown individuals or exposure to such incidents is so great that one becomes numb towards them. In addition, one is always on guard and watchful so that one does not become a victim oneself. In a small mountain village like our’s however, the same kind of events shake one up. Maybe because they involve individuals who are known or perhaps because one has lowered one’s defences, lulled by the seemingly idyllic, peaceful nature of life. I don’t think it is the end of our innocence: I still don’t feel threatened in any way. What has ended, though, is the apathy and indifference that one learns to wear in the city. There is also an acute awareness that each crime has many victims – multiple lives are affected, not just one.

Our gentle Kumaoni village is not free of crime or sorrow, but here each victim is mourned and each story is heard countless times.

About the contributor :

An urban migrant, Dr. Vandita Dubey is a resident of the Kumaoni village of Satkhol. A US licensed psychologist, she is the author of the book “Parenting in the age of Sexposure”. She also co-hosts the Himalayan Writing Retreats. You can learn more about her at www.vanditadubey.com and about the writing retreats at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com .

One Tribe

One Tribe

Contributor : Matthew Wheelock.

Shared values are surely one of the fastest and strongest makers of bonds between people. Identified and defined by what is not said. The disclosure of a different set of priorities that act like a secret handshake, after which a great deal is silently understood. You can be close to and know a person for your whole life, but still carry the slightest doubt about them. Or meet someone for the first time and know that they’ll never give you cause for distrust. It’s a strange thing, bigger than age or culture or faith or colour, it’s instinctive.

There is an eclectic range of people here in Sitla, city runaways, educated and adventurousonetribe 3.jpg that know what they want. Or who more specifically, know exactly what they don’t want and have given up more than most are willing to in realising it. The rewards of which are implicit, so understood that we seldom speak of them. Being here through choice, making it self-evident.

You see it in the villagers, sat silently in the ‘garami-garami’ warmth of the afternoon sun, their gaze lost to the distant peaks. I see it in Kishan, my local home help, as he takes selfies on a crystal clear morning, capturing the distant snows in stark relief behind him. And when I pass him my binoculars and watch him utterly absorbed in his first sight of the intricate details of our giant neighbours.

 

I was sitting at my favourite viewing spot on the road from Almora one afternoon when an Onetribe 1.jpgelderly villager stopped to talk to me. ‘Very beautiful’ I say in my terrible Hindi looking out to the faraway mountains and the valley disappearing below us. ‘If you want to see a really beautiful view of the mountains, you should climb that next peak’ he says pointing to the opposite mountain. ‘Amazing 180 degree view of the Himalayas from there, incredibly beautiful’ he tells me passionately.

 

The love and admiration for this mountainous beauty isn’t diminished by being born here, like the local villagers. It is a constant and lifelong source of delight, sustenance for the soul and that shared appreciation transcends all boundaries and limitations.

 

But to outsiders; the people of the plains, we must often explain it in detail. The forest, the clean air, touchable horizons, the pinks and oranges across the snows in the dying light. The pace of life and the grace of bells and children’s laughter.

 

I have lived here in the hills for nearly two years. In that time, I’ve learnt that the common ground the mountains provide, to us that live here, is as much cultural as physical. Drawn from such a range of origins and for such differing reasons, we all consider it a privilege to have arrived.

 

Our love of the hills, of nature and the peace and tranquility are not just passing interests, but fundamental parts of our being that reach to the core, as values that bind us.

We are many things here, but we are one Tribe.

 

About Matthew Wheelock :

Matthew left his job as a management consultant in the UK in March 2015 to move to the hills of Kumaon. He is currently writing a book about a recently completed 21,000km solo motorbike trip across Canada. He writes on a range of themes including, nature, travel, identity, belief and time.

More information can be found on his website  www.matthewwheelock.com

 

Your money – Black, White or Wheatish?

Your money – Black, White or Wheatish?

Contributor : Navin Pangti.  In this piece Navin – an amazingly independent thinker – walks us through his conversation with a bunch of village kids about demonetization. Their observations offer a simple, insightful reality check on demonetisation. Read the Hindi version (scroll down) to lose nothing in translation.

Like every Sunday, last Sunday too we sat with a few village kids. When I mentioned demonetization, everyone opined that demonetization is a good first step but the needs of the poor were ignored.  Then I asked what is black money? Can it be made white with Fair and Lovely, or does it take more work? Is the money earned by the daily-wage labourer also black money? Is the earning from Charas (Hashish)  black money? They said that the labourer’s earning is not black money because that is earned from hard work even though he does not file a zero tax return, but the earning from Charas is black money. Then I asked – has the Charas earnings in the surrounding villages become waste? They said no. So that means the black money remains. Then I asked – does this mean next year there will be nobody making and selling Charas? They said it will be made and sold. Then my question was did changing the currency notes actually stop the black money?   Or will stopping the Charas trade actually stop the black money?

Was the issue the black money, or the businesses generating it? They seemed to agree that the problem was the businesses generating it. Then we talked about what is barter, what is money, what is business and trade, what is currency, where are notes printed and how, how is the value of the rupee determined etc. During our talk we also understood the English words for these terms. We did not talk any politics or discuss Modiji. For three hours we talked. The gathering of kids ranged from classes 8 – 12. They easily understood all the issues at hand, but it is shocking how our civilized and overeducated society seems to have lost the spectacles of its brain.  They seem unable to see that plastic money and bank access are privileges of the privileged class.

Why is a tiny subsection of India’s population controlling and foisting its ideas on all of society? The sadly funny thing is that those who deal in black money are the ones looking for so-called freedom from it, and they don’t even realize that the people bearing the brunt of their actions do not have any wealth – leave alone black money. Tell me, tomorrow when you do land and property deals in the city will you not make payments in black money? Will you not pay the extra 2% on the registry fees? If you will not, that is great. But if you will then please wake up to yourself … understand the real issue and think about it … the country changes with you.

 

indexAbout Navin Pangti :  Navin is a free-thinker who abandoned the city and now lives on a green hillside above almora. He wears numerous hats which include artisan, farmer, designer, poet, storyteller, entrepreneur and home-schooler. He has also published a collection of his hindi poetry under the title “Dhar kay us paar”.

 

 

हर इतवार की तरह आज भी गाँव के कुछ बच्चों के साथ बैठे. मैंने demonetisation का जिक्र किया तो सबका मानना था की demonetisation अच्छी पहल है पर गरीबों का पक्ष नहीं देखा गया. तब मैंने पूछा कि काला धन क्या होता है? क्या वो fair and lovely से सफेद हो सकता है या मसला कुछ और है? क्या जो देहाड़ी में मजदूर कमाते हैं वो काला धन है? क्या चरस से हुई कमाई काला धन है?  वो बोले मजदूर ही देहाड़ी काला धन नहीं है क्योंकि वो मेहनत की कमाई है यद्यपि मजदूर zero return नहीं भरता पर चरस की कमाई काला धन है. तो मैंने पूछा – क्या आस पास के गाँव के लोगों की चरस की कमाई बेकार हो गई? वो बोले नहीं. तो मतलब काला धन वहीं रहा. फिर मैंने पूछा – तो क्या अगले बरस चरस नहीं बनेगी और बिकेगी. वो बोले बनेगी. तो फिर काला धन केवल नोट बदलने के कहाँ रुका? वो तो चरस के बनने और बिकने से रुकेगा ना?

मुद्दा काले धन का नहीं काले धंधे का है. उनके बात समझ आ गई. फिर हमने बातें करी की वस्तु विनिमय क्या होता है, रूपया क्या होता है, व्यापार क्या होता है, मुद्रा क्या होती है, नोट क्यों और कैसे छपते हैं, रुपये का मूल्य कैसे तय होता है, इत्यादि… इसी बीच हमनें इन शब्दों की अंग्रेजी शब्दावली भी समझी. हमनें मोदीजी या राजनीति की कोई बात नहीं करी. तीन घंटे यूँहीं यही बातें करते रहे. ये बच्चे कक्षा ६ से १२ के थे. वो सहजता से अधिकाँश बातें समझ गए पर अचरज इस बात का है की हमारा सुशील व सुशिक्षित समाज अपनी बुद्धि का चश्मा कहीं खो चुका है. क्यों उन्हें दिखाई नहीं देता की plastic money और bank access एक privileged class का privilege है.

क्यों हिंदुस्तान कि आबादी का एक छोटा सा हिस्सा पूरे समाज पर कुंडली मार कर अपना हक जमा रहा है. मजे की बात है की जो काले धन में खेलता है वो खुद उससे ‘तथाकथित’ मुक्ति चाहता है पर ये नहीं देख पाता की जो उसकी इस चाह में पिस रहा है वो काला धन तो क्या, धन क्या है ये भी नहीं जान पाया है. एक बात बताओ, कल जब जमीन में पूंजी लगाओगे, surplus income से नया फ्लैट खरीदोगे तो क्या ब्लैक में पेमेंट नहीं करोगे, रजिस्ट्री के दो परसेंट नहीं दोगे? अगर हाँ तो बहुत अच्छी बात है पर अगर नहीं तो कृपया जागो… मुद्दे पर आओ और सोचो… देश बदल रहा है