“In America, you get everything, easily. In India, no one gets anything easily.” –Observation from Scottish Oil Driller from plane.
I wanted to record that because it rings so true.
Outside the art exhibit of portraits of Ghandi at the same art institute where two years ago we came for a Tibetan Festival of nonviolence, when the Dali Lama was in town.
We went to the Narmada Dam, on a tour given my grandmother’s former student, an engineer who has been working on it for thirty years. The Narmada River is beautiful, and in a beautifully hilly region five hours south of Ahemdabad. For my Environmental Policy course I did a group project on the World Bank, and focused on a case study where the World Bank, a multilateral and powerful group, withdrew it’s funding and changed it’s policies based on the protests and uprising of the Indian people in reaction to the Naramada Dam. The Dam would provide power for the cities of Gujarat and two neighboring states as well as irrigation, and in the process also flood the land that indigenous people and their ancestors have been cultivating for centuries. Based on the activism of the people here the World Bank began requiring environmental assessments and evaluations on the impact of the native people for all projects it funds. To me the story is inspiring- of stealing the basic rights and needs of tradition people who have so little money and influence in modern politics for the sake of the sake of urban elites is the repeated pattern of progress. But the story here brings into the scope the impact, the sacrifices, that go into modern creature comforts and luxuries that technology and manipulation and exploitation of nature and people that it requires.
DISCLAIMER: long winded rushed and non research historical context rant to follow.
The irrigation issue lies rooted in the Green Revolution of India. Under British rule the patchwork of kingdoms were exploited and heavily taxed, and the raw fields of subsistence peasants were diverted to growing ‘cash crops’ yielding commodities the west demanded- such as the cotton. India was then also the market; after the British manufactured clothes and other products including salt they then turned and sold those products back the Indians who were banned from producing their own. Thus, Ghandi’s passive resistance in spinning his own cloth and procuring his own salt from the sea- acts of self-sufficiency in defiance of the profit oriented leadership. Bruised from the abuse and the traumatic case of the Bengali famine where speculators and merchants hoarded food in order to inflate prices in turn starving the population, upon independence, India was determined to provide for itself. Turning to the technology that today’s oil intensive agriculture industry relies on with genetically modified herbicide resistant super species grown in mass in monocultures of fields of just one plant blazed with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, and requiring much more water than traditional organic polyculture methods (integrating animal husbandry rather than the cruelty of confined animal feed operations) in for a limited time the fields of Punjab gave increased yields. The success was short lived in the debt accumulated (along with the profit and wealth of the super powerful chemical industries holding the patents to the seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides etc.) and the depletion of the soil’s nutrients and water resources. Thus the state of hopeless indebted farmers turning to city slums and poisonous factory work or ‘revolutionary’ violence, an origin of the demise of the precious balance between the cultivators and the land crashed into a game of chasing money in order to fill our pockets before we can fill our bellies. So we find me today, my insistence on the importance of our food, not only for our health, our land, our nutrition, our well being.
We passed through a small town on the way to the dam, and it warmed my heart, broken by the cities- painful places with flashing wealth mimicking the craze of the west for feeding our earnings into designers and technology funding the rich and powerful to just greater heights, juxtaposed with excruciating poverty and the downward spiral of so called progress into shopping malls and movie theater centers instead of the traditional neighborhood heart- the bird feeder (pol).
So anyway, rural India is nothing short of enchanting with the tremendous ancient architecture still standing, next to herds goats and cows and some pigs and camels and monkeys here and there feeding off the shrubs popping up in the jigsaw of alleys and courtyards. One thing that stands out as inspiringly dissimilar is the lack of separation between inside and outside, the open air and the contained walls of the home.
Inefficient concrete buildings requiring so much from so many people and places as opposed to the huts with thatched roofs and earthen walls that maintain much cooler temperatures. What a waste modernity calls for, we truly must question our chosen techniques of inefficient building in order to save money but in long run losing so much when it’s not a structure that cannot last the tests of time or elements. Scrap metal, discarded rubble, trash, plastic tarps, concrete slabs, are tacked together to build the shanties of the slums. In contrast- the beauty of these natural earthen homes framed with lush beauty of the tropical fields and the ox pulling the plow and the women in saris with baskets upon their heads. Here when you drive by fields you actually see people in them, not just an occasional tractor like in the U.S. The small town is full of ancient elegant architecture, arches and palaces, temples and wells, thrown in with the congestion of the basic needs for the everyday people calling it home.
An ancient landmark on the way to the Narmada Valley. Gorgeous carvings.
On the steps I ventured into, on top of, and over to the other side of this structure.
Women with their laundry in the bins balanced upon their head pass my family, sightseeing at archway. Carvings displaced during renovations.
With the Narmada Valley in the background.
We stayed at the government run Circuit House, commanding views of the valley and waters below.
One of the many reservoirs caused by the many dams flooded the land around this ancient temple. It remained popular; until it was moved atop this hill it was visited by boat.
A palace that now houses the Gujarat Forest Rangers College. The grounds are now cultivated as an arboretum specializing on aruvedic (native plants and herbs with medicinal qualities)
Women doing laundry on the steps heading into the river.