Saturday, March 26, 2016

On Bengaluru's Lakes: In HBL's BLink

Read the story in The Hindu Business Line's BLInk here or see below. 


The few lakes in pub city that have escaped land sharks are today little better than sewage lines, including a foaming one that bursts into flames, and another that kills masses of fish
Where do you begin to tell the story of a thousand deaths? Should you begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end, and then stop? Perhaps. But the story of the lakes in Bengaluru would hardly lend itself to a linear narrative.

Earlier this month, the Ulsoor lake — famed for its gorgeous sunsets sliding behind a tiny island, boat rides set off against the champagne skies and a popular refuge from the sweltering summer days — saw its first fish-kill of the year. Hundreds of dead fish washed up on the shores, raising a mighty stench for passers-by and the dozens of plush lake-view apartments in the vicinity.

The news and pictures got a few column inches in the papers and a bit of airtime, but not for longer than a day. Eutrophication was old news even a decade ago.

The once quiet, sleepy town of Bengaluru had under its belt several sobriquets like the ‘garden city’ and the ‘city of lakes’ (the nearly 300 that came into being along with the city in the 16th century). The jacaranda and tabebuia trees that line the roads and parks in nearly every neighbourhood — however ill-maintained — still somewhat justify the first sobriquet. But the city grew into the gargantuan it is today by swallowing many of its lakes and spitting out a tragedy over several decades now.

Of course, not many people had stopped to notice.

According to a committee set up by the Karnataka legislature in 2014, an estimated 11,000 acres of lakebed has been encroached on, from 1,545 lakes, in both Bangalore Urban and Rural districts. One-third of the encroachments was by the Bangalore Development Authority and the rest by private land developers. Even until the 1960s, the city of lakes boasted 280 water bodies; today not more than 17 have survived.

A 2005 study by TV Ramachandra of the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science showed that waterbodies have shrunk from 3.4 per cent of the city area in 1973 to 1.47 per cent in 2005; the built-up area grew from 27.3 per cent to 45.19 per cent in the same period.

The fallout: flooding at the first hint of rain, changes in micro climates and drastic changes in the migratory patterns of birds. Not to mention the cultural changes to the face of the city, the death of snakes, frogs and other fauna in the vicinity, and the redundancy of a whole way of life — of fishermen, farmers and other communities that lived by these lakes and helped keep them healthy and alive.

While environmentalists and residents have been crying hoarse over the encroachment and filth endangering the lakes since the 1970s, it was the almost surreal foaming of Bellandur lake — the largest lake in Bengaluru — last year that caught national attention.

Reports of foam formation from the detergents and other chemicals draining into the lake began appearing in the 1980s.

But one day last year, the foam, already blowing on to windshields of cars and into the eyes of helmet-clad motorbike riders, caught fire. Cooking oil from the thousands of household drains that empty into the lake, is said to have reacted with detergents and other toxic chemicals to burst into flames.

Most of the city’s lakes were created more than 400 years ago by damming three natural valley systems — the Koramangala-Challaghatta, Hebbal and Vrishabhavathi.

The way it worked was that rainwater would fill the lakes and the excess flowed downstream into the next lake through stormwater drains, or raja-kaluves.

Today, untreated sewage flowing into the stormwater drains is, in turn, polluting the lakes all around and has long made the water undrinkable. The springs at the bottom of some of the lakes, which also once fed the lakes, are blocked by decades of piled-up silt. A lot of Bengaluru’s water supply today is dependent on river-based systems.

The history of attempts to save the lakes has been a chequered one. Along the way, the state government even tried to privatise the lakes and get large companies to adopt, clean and give the lakes — and the flowers, trees, birds and animals dependent on them — a fresh stab at life.

This step was met with a lot of resistance from the public and was eventually overturned. Cleanliness and awareness drives achieve what they can, but saving the lakes is an undertaking that demands a lot more, activists point out. Dealing yet another blow, the 2016 State Budget allocated a grossly insufficient ₹100 crore for lake development.

Citing the most recent fish-kill at Ulsoor lake, Ramachandra says the solution lies in treatment of sewage water. He explains that due to the higher temperatures in summer, there is an increase in biological activity and the level of nutrients in the lakes, leading to depletion of oxygen and the death of fishes in large numbers. Add to this the high ammonia levels in Ulsoor lake. However, rather than a simple sewage treatment plant, which not only cannot remove the nutrients but is also not cost-effective, what is needed is an integrated plan, like the one in force at Jakkur lake. “An algae pond and wetlands remove 90-95 per cent of the nutrients and the rest is removed by animals and plants along the way,” he says.

Leo F Saldanha, coordinator at the Environment Support Group (ESG), an organisation at the forefront of efforts to save the city’s lakes, points out that there are no easy answers.

He lays the bulk of the blame at the door of the big builders who have violated all guidelines when constructing lucrative apartments and villas offering lake views.

“An encroacher is effectively a polluter,” he says, pointing to the waste that enters the lakes from such dwellings. “The politics of the states is financed by real estate. Even when the encroachments are demolished, the government goes after the weak guys. Unless we go after encroachments, nothing effective can be done,” he says.

Pegging the health of lakes as a much more vital issue than road congestion, which gets inordinate attention and thus funds, Saldanha says investment in road development was aimed at the elite, much to the detriment of lakes. “Any farmer will tell you that water needs to flow on soil, not on concrete. Break the concrete lining of raja-kaluves and plant shrubs along the edges,” he adds.

Calling the state of lakes a “ticking bomb waiting to explode in our faces”, Saldanha despairs that the government has not displayed the nerve to act against encroachments. “Some predict that by 2025 we won’t have any water left in the city. We already don’t have any. What we have in Bengaluru is what we are stealing from Ramanagara, Channapatna, Mandya, and so on,” he points out.

Deepa Bhasthi is a writer and the editor of ‘The Forager’, an online journal of food politics

(This article was published on March 25, 2016)

Monday, March 14, 2016

On P K Nair's Heggodu-Ninasam Connection: In Indian Express

Read the story on The Indian Express (old, favourite, much admired paper, yay!) here or see below. Published March 13, 2016.

The legacy of film archivist, PK Nair, can be found in a village in Karnataka

It must take a certain measure of maverick to be a pioneer, to be one that marches to a different drummer, to be brave and foolish, at the exact same time, to do something no one has ever done before. This sets together the late K V Subbanna, one of the founders of Ninasam and the late P K Nair, the first film archivist of the country, on the same bench, even if they were mostly associated with each other’s work through their association with other people. What, however, merits the stringing of their life’s work in the same breath is their contribution to creating pedagogical platforms for the development of film studies in the country.

The story of the Heggodu experiment is a much-thumbed narrative, told and retold with marvel, an ounce of incredulousness and a yearning for its replication elsewhere. K V Subbanna, along with a motley set of mostly farmer friends, set up the eponymous Nilakanteshwara Natya Seva Sangha in 1949 in a remote village called Heggodu - verdant, the landscape studded with picturesque villages of mostly arecanut farmers, and nearly 400 kms from the state capital of Bengaluru. It would be many years before it began to be called the more fashionable Ninasam, an acronym of its old name, and decades before it became a cultural institution to reckon with.

From an empty ground where the local men gathered occasionally to rehearse and stage plays in, it grew to contain a large auditorium and then, to feed the spurt in projects and programs, a theatre school was set up. To further engage with the students that passed out from here, a repertoire of plays that began to be staged all over the state began to take shape. The Thirugata troupe, as they are named, of artistes is today well- known in Karnataka, regularly producing actors who have gone on to be famous names in television and cinema.

What perhaps catapulted Ninasam’s fame in the national culture scene was its film program. K V Akshara, treasurer at Ninasam, also a writer and a prominent personality in contemporary Kannada theatre writes of how his father, K V Subbanna was a participant in the first film appreciation course that the Film Institute in Pune organized in 1967. Marie Seaton led the program. Inspired, Subbanna started the Ninasam Chitra Samaja in 1973 and went on to organize amongst the first ever international film festivals in the country, that too in a hitherto unheard off village in central Karnataka, in 1977. Akshara writes of how the support of the country’s pioneering film archivist, the celluloid man P K Nair, and his contemporary from the film institute, Satish Bahadur, proved invaluable in setting up a film culture in Heggodu.

What continue to remain the calling card for the idea of the Heggodu experiment are the stories of how farmers, local shopkeepers, odd-jobs-men, et all could hold their own in a discussion on foreign cinema. Kurosawa, Fellini, De Sica are names that roll off the tongue unhesitantly, as do thoughts on famous films these and others made. The fact that villagers were familiar with and interested in such films and in meeting, hosting and socializing with intellectuals, artists, writers and the ‘thinking men’ of the country was what first began to get Ninasam and Heggodu noticed. This blip in the map did something monumental – Akshara writes in an essay on Satish Bahadur, of how the 1977 film festival dispelled the myth that high culture, highbrow cinema and quality contemporary theatre was not something people in villages would like or show any interest in. Prajnanand R S, a cable operator in Heggodu, spoke to me about watching movies of Kurosawa and several short films now and then these days.

For ten years, from 1979 onwards, a ten-day long film appreciation course was organized at Ninasam. Films invariably came from FTII and National Film Archive of India (NFAI), Pune. Satish Bahadur and occasionally, P K Nair, were regular fixtures at these courses. Those years gave rise also to a Ninasam Film Society, one of the first rural film societies in India.

Subbanna furthered the development of film studies by publishing books, essays and critiques of films, all in Kannada, a move that made foreign language films all the more accessible to the local populace and the stream of visitors from other parts of the state. K G Mahabaleshwar, retired principal of Ninsam Theatre Institute and a long term associate of Ninasam, told me that after ten years of successfully running the film appreciation course, they all began to think of doing something more and different with those ten days. Thus in 1990 began the Culture Course, a week long meditation on films, art, literature, theatre, music, etc. facilitated by some of the foremost culture practitioners and thinkers of the country. The course remains an essential event on the state’s culture calendar.

In an old interview with Samvartha ‘Sahil’, a freelance screen writer, P K Nair spoke of how “In Heggodu we broke the language barrier. …What was commendable about K V Subbanna was that he not just showed films and held film appreciation courses but also published booklets on and about cinema which is an important thing to do because they serve as knowledge material which go hand in hand with cinema in creation of a film culture. He did it in local language which makes his work extraordinary,” he had said. The film courses were expanded into larger culture courses, something Nair lamented about, but in Heggodu it gave rise to a film culture that remains an important case study in the development of film studies in the country.

In a bid to understand the role Nair played in encouraging film connoisseurs in a country that, still, to some, albeit diminishing, extent, hesitates to count cinema alongside fine arts and performing arts as ‘high-culture’, I spoke to H N Narahari Rao, President of the Indian chapter of International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI). Rao has several anecdotes to share about Nair. He told me how there are some 200 film societies in India and there possibly couldn’t be a single one that Nair didn’t lend films to. “Those days there were no DVDs. The films were in 16 mm prints and he (Nair) always sent a representative of his with the prints to look after them,” he said, speaking of the films that were shown in Bengaluru’s old and famous Suchitra Film Society that Rao co-founded.

Film as a medium serious enough to be studied academically is a thought process that is still a tad novel. In establishing the idea of film – popular, parallel, or otherwise – as part of cultural heritage and in furthering its pedagogical importance in contemporary culture studies, Subbanna and Nair, and the institutions they nurtured, undoubtedly stand at the forefront. Their experiments inspired a legion of practitioners, teachers and enthusiasts who have attempted replications of these works and models, to various degrees of success. Like those two pioneers, these must be mavericks too. Come to think of it, no country could have too many of these bohemians.

On Sarah Koenig's Serial and Voyeurism in Media: Kannada Prabha Column

Here is a bit of a rant - if I had to name just one thing I hated the most, then it has to be the lack of professionalism. This quality has made me burn way too many bridges than I am proud of, but I am a bit of a stickler for it. To generalize a bit, in my years of being a freelance writer, I have discovered again and again that foreign media houses and publications are so incredibly more professional compared to the negligence most Indian places show. There is little regard for a writer's time, words and the payments due. Especially with edits, they do not show the respect due to a writer. And I find it appalling. While this certainly is not the case with most of the editors I have personally worked with, some go the other extreme to spoil the whole joy of writing for me.

I must write a longer post on this, I realize. How I wish I could name some names here. Sigh.

My most recent Kannada Prabha column was nearly entirely re-written, with utter disregard to the tone of the topic, with the name of the podcast I was writing about, Serial, was taken to mean a television series! A doubt that a simple web search would have clarified. It is majorly embarrassing for such less than mediocre editing to be carried under my name. 

Ok, this certainly requires a longer post. For now, here is the column below, fully unedited. (Please ignore typos.)

ಗುರುವಾರ ಬಂತೆಂದರೆ ಸೀರಿಯಲ್ ಅಡಿಕ್ಟ್ ಗಳಿಗೆ ಹಬ್ಬ. ಸೀರಿಯಲ್ ಶುರುವಾಗುವುದು ವಿಶಾಲ ಅಂತರ್ಜಾಲದ ಒಂದು ಪುಟ್ಟ ಮೂಲೆಯಲ್ಲಿ. ಟೀವಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಬರುವ ಸೀರಿಯಲಿನ ಹಾಗೆ ಪ್ರಾರಂಭದಲ್ಲಿ, ಕೊನೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಮತ್ತು ಮಧ್ಯ-ಮಧ್ಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಸ್ವಲ್ಪ ರೇಗಿಸುವ ಜಾಹಿರಾತುಗಳು ಬರುತ್ತವೆ. ಇದೊಂದು ಪಾಡ್ ಕಾಸ್ಟ್, ಅದರ ಹೆಸರು 'ಸೀರಿಯಲ್' ಎಂದು. ಪಾಡ್ ಕಾಸ್ಟ್ ಎಂದರೆ ಅಂತರ್ಜಾಲದ ಮೂಲಕ ಬರುವ ರೇಡಿಯೋ ಧಾರಾವಾಹಿಯಹಾಗೆ. ಟೀವಿ, ಇಂಟರ್ನೆಟ್, ಎಲ್ಲಾ ವಿಷಯವನ್ನು ಸ್ಕ್ರೀನುಗಳ ಮೂಲಕವೇ ವಿತರಿಸುವ, ಗ್ರಹಿಸುವ ಪ್ರವೃತ್ತಿಯನ್ನು ಬೆಳೆಸಿಕೊಂಡ ಆಧುನಿಕ ಜಗತ್ತಿನಲ್ಲಿ ರೇಡಿಯೋ ಧಾರಾವಾಹಿಗಳಿಗೆ ಸ್ಥಾನವಿದೆಯೇ, ಕೇವಲ ಶ್ರವ್ಯ ಮಧ್ಯಮಕ್ಕೆ ಗ್ರಾಹಕರ ಗಮನವನ್ನು ಹಿಡಿದಿಡುವ ಸಾಮರ್ತ್ಯ ಇದೆಯೇ ಎಂಬ ಪ್ರಶ್ನೆಗಳಿರುವ ವಾತವರಣದಲ್ಲಿ 'ಸೀರಿಯಲ್' ಹುಟ್ಟಿಕೊಂಡಿತು.

ಸಾರ ಕೇನಿಗ್ ಎಂಬ ಅಮೇರಿಕನ್ ಪತ್ರಕರ್ತೆ ಒಂದು ಕೊಲೆ ಪ್ರಕರಣದ ಕಥೆಯನ್ನು ಹನ್ನೆರಡು ಕಂತುಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಪಾಡ್ ಕಾಸ್ಟ್ ಮಾಡಿದರು. ಕೆಲವೊಂದು ಕೊಲೆ, ಅತ್ಯಾಚಾರದ ಪ್ರಕರಣಗಳು ರಾಷ್ಟ್ರ ಮಟ್ಟದಲ್ಲಿ ಜನರ ಗಮನ ಸೆಳೆದು ಚರ್ಚೆಗೆ ಒಳಗಾಗಿ ಕಾನೂನಿನಲ್ಲಿ, ಸಮಾಜದಲ್ಲಿ ಬದಲಾವಣೆಗೆ ದಾರಿ ಮಾಡಿ ಕೊಟ್ಟು ಮೈಲುಗಲ್ಲಿನ ಪ್ರಕರಣವಾಗಿ ಸಾಮುದಾಯಿಕ ನೆನಪಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಉಳಿದುಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತದೆ. ಕೇನಿಗ್ ವಿಮರ್ಶಿಸಿ ಬರೆದು ಹೇಳಿದ ಕೊಲೆಯ ಕಥೆ ಈ ರೀತಿಯ ಕೇಸ್ ಅಲ್ಲ. ಅಮೇರಿಕಾದ ಬಹು ಪಾಲು ಜನರು ಕೇಳಿಯೇ ಇರದ ಸಣ್ಣ ಊರೊಂದರಲ್ಲಿ ಒಬ್ಬ ಹೈ ಸ್ಕೂಲ್ ವಿದ್ಯಾರ್ಥಿಗೆ ತನ್ನ ಮಾಜಿ ಗರ್ಲ್ ಫ್ರೆಂಡ್ ಅನ್ನು ಕೊಲೆ ಮಾಡಿದ ಆರೋಪದ ಮೇಲೆ ಜೀವಾವದಿ ಶಿಕ್ಷೆ ವಿಧಿಸಲಾಗುತ್ತದೆ. ಹದಿನೈದು ವರ್ಷಗಳ ಹಿಂದೆ ನಡೆದ ಘಟನೆ ಇದು. ಕೊಲೆಯ ನಂತರ ನಡೆದ ತನಿಕೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಹಲವು ತೊಂದರೆಗಳು ಕಂಡುಬಂದಿರುತ್ತವೆ. ಸಾಕ್ಷಿಗಳಲ್ಲಿ, ಹೇಳಿಕೆಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಹಲವು ವ್ಯತ್ಯಾಸಗಳು ಗಮನಸೆಳೆಯುತ್ತವೆ. ಈ ಎಲ್ಲಾ ಕಾರಣಗಳಿಂದಾಗಿ ಕೊಲೆ ಮಾಡಿದ ಅದ್ನಾನ್ ಸಯ್ಯದ್ ನಿಜವಾಗಿಯೂ ಕೊಲೆಗಾರನೇ ಅಥವಾ ನಿರಪರಾದಿಯಾಗಿರಬಹುದೇ ಎಂಬ ಪ್ರಶ್ನೆಗೆ ಉತ್ತರ ಹುಡುಕಲು ಕೇನಿಗ್ ಪ್ರಯತ್ನಪಡುತ್ತಾರೆ.

ಸೀರಿಯಲ್ ನ ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಂದು ಎಪಿಸೋಡ್ ಕೇಳುಗರನ್ನು ವಿಪರೀತವಾಗಿ ಹಿಡಿದಿದುವಂತದ್ದು. ಕೇನಿಗ್ ನಿರೂಪಣೆ ಮಾಡುವ ಶೈಲಿ ಪುರಾತನ ಕಾಲದ ಕಥೆಗಾರನೊಬ್ಬ ಇರುಳಾದಂತೆ ಬೆಂಕಿಯ ಸುತ್ತ ಕುಳಿತು ಗುಹೆಯ ಬೇರೆ ನಿವಾಸಿಗಳಿಗೆ ಕಥೆ ಹೇಳುತ್ತಿರುವ ಭಾವನೆಯನ್ನು ಕಲ್ಪಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಈ ನಿರೂಪಣೆ ಶೈಲಿಯ ವಿಷಯ, ಈ ಸೀರಿಯಲ್ ನಿಂದ ಆದ ಪ್ರಭಾವ ಬಹಳಷ್ಟು ತಿಂಗಳ ಕಾಲ ಚರ್ಚೆಗೆ ಒಳಗಾಯಿತು. ಕೇನಿಗ್ ಈ ಕಥೆಯನ್ನು ಬಹಳ ನಾಟಕೀಯವಾಗಿ, ತುಂಬಾ ಭಾವಪೂರಕವಾಗಿ ಹೇಳುವುದರಿಂದ ಮೊದಲಿನಿಂದಲೇ ಕೇಳುಗರು ಈ ಕೇಸಿನ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ತಮ್ಮದೇ ಆದ ಅನಿಸಿಕೆ, ತೀರ್ಮಾನಗಳನ್ನು ಮೂಡಿಸತೊಡಗಿದರು. ಅದಷ್ಟು ವರ್ಷಗಳ ಹಿಂದೆ ಏನಾಗಿತ್ತೆಂದು ತಿಳಿಯಲು ಕೇನಿಗ್ ಅದ್ನಾನ್ ಮತ್ತು ಕೊಲೆಯಾದ ಹುಡುಗಿಯ ಸ್ನೇಹಿತರನ್ನು, ಪರಿವಾರದವರನ್ನು ಸಂದರ್ಶಿಸುತ್ತಾರೆ. ಕೊಲೆಯಾದ ಹುಡುಗಿಯ ಪರಿವಾರ ಸೀರಿಯಲ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ಭಾಗಿಯಾಗಲಿಲ್ಲ. ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಂದು ಎಪಿಸೋಡ್ ನಿಲ್ಲಿಸಲಾಗಿದ್ದ ರೀತಿ ಹೇಗಿತ್ತೆಂದರೆ ಒಂದು ವಾರ ಮುಂದಿನ ಕಂತು ಬರುವವರೆಗೂ ಕೇಳುಗರು ಇಂಟರ್ನೆಟ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ, ಟಿವಿ, ಪತ್ರಿಕೆ, ಬ್ಲಾಗ್ ಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಸೀರಿಯಲ್ ನ ಬಗ್ಗೆ, ಮುಂದೇನಾಗಬಹುದು ಎಂದು ಚರ್ಚಿಸುತ್ತಿದರು. ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಜನ ಮನೆಯ ಚೇರ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ಕುಳಿತೆ ಪತ್ತೆದಾರರಾದರು. ಈ ಕೊಲೆ ಪ್ರಕರಣದಲ್ಲಿ ಸಾಕ್ಷಿಯಾದ ಹಲವರನ್ನು ಕೇನಿಗ್ ಮತ್ತು ಅವರ ತಂಡ ಹುಡುಕಿ ಸಂದರ್ಶಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ಮರೆಯಲು ಪ್ರಯತ್ನಿಸಿದ ಘಟನೆಯನ್ನು ಪುನಃ ಕೆದುಕಿಹಾಕಿ, ಕೆಲವೊಂದು ಬಾರಿ ಬೆನ್ನು ಹತ್ತಿ ಹಿಂಸಿಸಿದರೆಂಬ ಭಾವನೆ ಬರುತ್ತದೆ. ಹಲವರ ವಯ್ಯಕ್ತಿಕ ವಿಷಯಗಳನ್ನು ಇಡೀ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ಮುಂದೆ ತಂದಿಟ್ಟು ಅವರ ಜೀವನವನ್ನು ಅಪಾಯಕ್ಕೆ ಒಳಪಡಿಸಿದ ಆರೋಪ ಸೀರಿಯಲ್ ಮೇಲೆ ಬಂದಿತ್ತು. ಇಷ್ಟೆಲ್ಲಾ ಕೇವಲ ಜನರ ಮನೋರಂಜನೆಗೆಂಬ ಉದ್ದೇಶದಿಂದ ಎಂಬುದು ಇಲ್ಲಿಯ ಗಮನಾರ್ಹ ವಿಷಯ.

ಸೀರಿಯಲ್ ನಿಂದಾಗಿ ಅದ್ನಾನ್ ನ ಕೇಸ್ ಮತ್ತೆ ತೆರದು, ತನಿಕೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಏನಾದರು ತಪ್ಪಾಗಿರಬಹುದೇ ಎಂದು ನೋಡಲಾಗುತ್ತಿದೆ. ಬಲವಾದ ಸಾಕ್ಷಿಗಳಿಲ್ಲದೆ, ಅಥವಾ ತನಿಕೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಅದೇನೋ ತಪ್ಪಿನಿಂದಾಗಿ ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ನಿರಪರಾದಿಗಳು ಜೈಲು ವಾಸಮಾಡುತ್ತಿರುವ ಉದಾಹರಣೆಗಳು ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಂದು ರಾಷ್ಟ್ರದ ಕಾನೂನು ಚೌಕಟ್ಟಿನೊಳಗೆ ಕಂಡುಬರುತ್ತದೆ. ಯಾವುದೇ ಒಂದು ಅನ್ಯಾಯವನ್ನು ಸರಿಪಡಿಸುವ ಪ್ರಯತ್ನ ಮಾಡುವ ಕಾರ್ಯಕ್ರಮವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಶಂಸಿಸಲೇಬೇಕು. ಹೀಗೆ ಒಂದೆಡೆ ಜನರನ್ನು ಹಿಡಿದಿತ್ತು ಮನೋರಂಜಿಸಿದ ಶೋ ಸೀರಿಯಲ್ ಆದರೆ, ಇನ್ನೊಂದೆಡೆ ಜನರ ವ್ಯಯಕ್ತಿಕ ಹಕ್ಕುಗಳ ಬಗ್ಗೆ, ಮಾಧ್ಯಮ, ವರದಿಗಾರಿಕೆ, ಪತ್ರಿಕೋದ್ಯಮದಲ್ಲಿ ಎಷ್ಟರ ಮಟ್ಟಿಗೆ ಯಾವುದೇ ಒಂದು ಕೇಸಿನ ಪರ ಅಥವಾ ವಿರೋಧ ಪಕ್ಷಪಾತ ಮಾಡಬಹುದು, ಎಂಬೆಲ್ಲಾ ಪ್ರಶ್ನೆಗಳು ಮೂಡಿಬಂದವು, ಬಹಳಷ್ಟು ಚರ್ಚೆಗೊಂಡವು.

ಪತ್ರಿಕೋದ್ಯಮದಲ್ಲಿ, ಒಂದು ಪತ್ರಿಕೆ, ಟೀವಿ ಚ್ಯಾನೆಲ್ ನ ವರದಿಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ನಿಷ್ಪಕ್ಷಪಾತವಿದೆ/ಇರಬೇಕು ಎಂಬುವ ನಂಬಿಕೆ ದಿನ ಕಳೆದಂತೆ ಪ್ರಸ್ತುತತೆ ಕಳೆದುಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತಿದೆ. ಮಾಧ್ಯಮಕ್ಕೆ, ಅದು ಯಾವುದೇ ಇರಬಹುದು, ಸಮಾಜದಲ್ಲಿ, ಅದರ ಗ್ರಾಹಕರತ್ತ ಒಂದು ಜವಾಬ್ದಾರಿ ಇರಬೇಕು ಎನ್ನುವ ವಿಷಯ ಇತ್ತೀಚಿಗೆ ಹಾಸ್ಯಾಸ್ಪದವೆನಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ಎಂಟರ್ಟೈನ್ಮೆಂಟ್, ಮನೋರಂಜನೆಯ ಹೆಸರಿನಲ್ಲಿ ತಮ್ಮದೇ ಆದ ಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತಗಳನ್ನು ಶೃಸ್ಟಿಸಲು ಉತ್ತೇಜಿಸುವ, ತಿದ್ದಿದ ವೀಡಿಯೊಗಳನ್ನು ತೋರಿಸಿ ಅದನ್ನೇ ಸತ್ಯವೆಂಬಂತೆ ಪ್ರತಿಪಾದಿಸಿ ಅದರಿಂದಾಗಬಹುದಾದ ಹಾನಿ ಮೊನ್ನೆಯಷ್ಟೇ ನಡೆದ ವಿಷಯ.

ಜವಾಹರ್ಲಾಲ್ ನೆಹರು ವಿಶ್ವವಿದ್ಯಾನಿಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ನಡೆದ ಕಾರ್ಯಕ್ರಮದಲ್ಲಿ ವಿದ್ಯಾರ್ಥಿ ಸಂಘದ ಕನಯ್ಯ ಕುಮಾರ್ ಮಾಡಿದ ಭಾಷಣದ ವೀಡಿಯೊವನ್ನು ತಿದ್ದುಪಡಿ ಮಾಡಿ ಅವನು ರಾಷ್ಟ್ರದ ವಿರುದ್ದ ಘೋಷಣೆಗಳನ್ನು ಮಾಡಿದಂತೆ ತೋರಿಸುವ ಆ ಕ್ಲಿಪ್ ಅನ್ನು ರಾಷ್ಟೀಯ ಟೀವಿ ಚ್ಯಾನೆಲ್ ಗಳು ತೋರಿಸಿದವು. ನಂಬಬಹುದಾದ, ದೃಡವಲ್ಲದ ಮೂಲಗಳಿಂದ ಬಂದ ವೀಡಿಯೊವನ್ನು ತೋರಿಸಿದರೂ ಅದರ ಮೂಲ ತಿಳಿದಿಲ್ಲ ಎಂದು ವೀಕ್ಷಕರಿಗೆ ತಿಳಿಸುವ ಕರ್ತವ್ಯ ಚ್ಯಾನೆಲ್ ಗಿದೆ. ಹೀಗೆ ಮಾಡದೆ, ವಿದ್ಯಾರ್ಥಿಗಳನ್ನು ಯಾವುದೇ ಪುರಾವೆಗಳಿಲ್ಲದೆ ಆತಂಕವಾದಿಗಳು, ಅಂತಿ-ನ್ಯಾಷನಲ್ ಎಂದು ಕರೆಯುವ ಮಾಧ್ಯಮ ಅಪಾಯಕರವಾದುದ್ದು.

ಜೆಏನ್ ಯು ವಿದ್ಯಾರ್ಥಿಗಳ ಮೇಲಿರುವ ಕೇಸುಗಳು ಕಾನೂನು ರೀತಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ನಡೆಯಬಹುದು ಎಂಬ ನಂಬಿಕೆ ಇಟ್ಟುಕೊಳ್ಳುವುದನ್ನು ಬಿಟ್ಟು ಬೇರೆ ವಿಧಿ ಕಂಡುಬರುವುದಿಲ್ಲ.ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಜನರ ಮನಸ್ಸಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಈ ಕೇಸಿನ ಬಗ್ಗೆ, ಆ ವಿದ್ಯಾರ್ಥಿಗಳ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಈಗಾಗಲೇ ಮಾಸಿಹೋಗದಂತ ಅಭಿಪ್ರಾಯಗಳು ಮೂಡಿಬಂದಾಗಿವೆ. ಮಿತಿಮೀರಿದ ಪ್ರಮಾಣದಲ್ಲಿ ಒಂದೇ ದೃಷ್ಟಿಕೋನದಿಂದ ಹೇಳುವ ಕಥಾ ನಿರೂಪಣೆ ಘೋರ ಸುಳ್ಳನೂ ಸಹ ದೃಡವಾದ ಸತ್ಯವನ್ನಾಗಿ ಮಾಡುವ ಶಕ್ತಿಯನ್ನು ಹೊಂದಿರುತ್ತದೆ. ಕಥೆಯ ಪ್ರಬಲತೆ ಇಲ್ಲೇ ಇರುವಂತದ್ದು.

ಕಾಲ್ಪನಿಕವೆಂಬಂತದ್ದನ್ನು ವಿನೋದಕ್ಕೆಂದು ಸೀರಿಯಲ್ ನ ರೂಪದಲ್ಲಿ ತೋರಿಸಬಹುದು. ಸತ್ಯವನ್ನು ತಿರುಚಿಸಿ ಎಂಟರ್ಟೈನ್ಮೆಂಟ್ ಮಾಡುವ ಯಾವುದೇ ಒಂದು ರಾಷ್ಟ್ರದ ಮಾಧ್ಯಮ ಬಹಳ ಅಪಾಯಕಾರಿಯಾದದ್ದು. ವರದಿ ಆದುದ್ದೆಲ್ಲ ದೃಡ ಸತ್ಯವಲ್ಲ ಎಂಬುದು ನೆನಪಿಡಬೇಕಾದ ದಿನಗಳಿವು. ಕಥೆಗಾರ ಬೆಂಕಿಯ ಸುತ್ತ ಹೆಣೆಯುವ ಕಥೆ ಅದೇನೇ ಇರಬಹುದು, ಅದನ್ನು ಒಂದಿಷ್ಟು ಸಂದೇಹವಿಟ್ಟುಕೊಂಡು ಗ್ರಹಿಸುವ ಪ್ರವೃತ್ತಿ ಬೆಳೆಸಿಕೊಂದಷ್ಟು ಬೇಗ ನಮಗೊಳ್ಳೆದು.

Hartman de Souza's Eat Dust, a Review: In TNIE magazine

This review took a while to be published now. Well here it is, in The New Indian Express' magazine section. See below for a tad unedited version.
Published March 06, 2016

Hartman de Souza
Harper Collins, Rs 350

The images that travel companies and tourism departments have been peddling like cheap wares at a flea market are well entrenched in mind. Stereotypes bring comfort in familiarity. Sunlit beaches, shacks to laze under all day and night, free flowing spirits – human and otherwise – and just the continued novelty of this all are ideas that Goa has found very favourable to carry along for decades now. In the here and now, Goa is the sum total perhaps of the desi Vegas where anything goes.

But Hartman de Souza’s Eat Dust – Mining and Greed in Goa chronicles a starkly different Goa, one that is red and open, mired in all that the prospect and presence of big money leads to. The vulgarity that Goans exhibited in the “Age of Greed” is detailed meticulously, drawing a depressing picture that in many ways is as true of Goa as it is the story of any state, any land destroyed by greed, money, power and ‘development’ that comes at the cost of the environment.

Maina, Cawrem, Quepem and other villages that nearly never figure in the guide books are the author’s backyard. He writes of how for years he saw hills get flattened, rivers and creeks disappear and the idyllic façade on the horizon morph into something beyond recognition. Part travelogue when he traverses the length and breadth of the state, part memoir when he speaks of his, and his family’s, involvement in fighting the powerful mining mafia and part investigative reportage, Eat Dust is a disturbing and very necessary account of how mining operations ruined the landscape of Goa, even when it made some families richer beyond their wildest dreams and brought schools and hospitals to the interiors, thus ‘developing’ its villages.

The narrative follows a before-and-after format to explain the hills that have now vanished and the rivers that have stopped flowing. The now is the near opposite of what used to be the topography of the rich land. Drawing from extensive on-ground research, de Souza exposes the corruption, the practice of faking Environment Impact Assessment reports, farcical public hearings, the powerful lobbies and the greed to make more and more and more and more money that defined what he terms the Age of Greed. There are detailed chapters on the four rich and famous families of the state that control power, either as kingpin courtiers or as invisible kings themselves, on the politicians, activists and journalists who play key figures in the Goa mining story and accounts of his very personal involvement with the issue and all that ensued.

Eat Dust is not by any measure an easy read. For a long way into the book, you want to continue to think only of Goa’s azure beaches, hippie markets and the susegad attitude to life that typifies, most times wrongly, the tiny state. It is a very pleasant image you would rather not let go off. But de Souza’s narrative does not offer any respite, and the facts are cold and un-ignorable. And soon, the picture postcard morphs into stark reality, that of Goa being yet another state at the mercy of powerful people.

The author says it best himself. “Only when there was nothing left here, except the pockmarked ravages of open-cast mining, would everybody know how this part of Goa had been upended in a frenzy fueled by greed.” Eat Dust is not by any measure an easy read. However it is one that ought to be read.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

On a Tribe in Kodagu: In Filter Coffee Column in Kindle Magazine

On a recent research trip to Kodagu, we met a few tribals, one of whom was the lovely Sarojini. For this month's Fiction Issue of Kindle, I wrote out her story, slightly fictionalised. Read on the Kindle website here or see below.


They say it looks like glass, shining, translucent. Even cuts like glass, apparently, so said Sarojini and her writer husband. Not writer as in someone who works with words. Writers are also supervisors in the coffee plantations of Kodagu, people who must have once written down the accounts and the names of workers in awkward cardboard bound log books. Maybe it comes from the Kannada raiTa, again the supervisor. Writer sounds fancier, no doubt.

We call this glass-like sap sambrani, the emphasis of the word falling upon the ‘n’, pronounced with a sharp outtake of breathe, almost rudely. For such a rude word, it smells wonderful though. You might know it as dhoop, that coarse powder that you sprinkle on a handful of burning coal to brings out smoke smelling like inside a temple. Or at least a prayer room from a chaste praying household. That nice smelling thing you blow into the fire before lighting up a joint, you know, because the neighbours would know otherwise. They find you and your ways curious, as it is.

Sarojini’s parents used to harvest the sambrani from the tree, she tells me. It is called the dhoopa tree and apparently bears fruit of some sort, I forget those details now. You run a gash against the truck and soon, the tears from the innards of this tree oozes out in waves. These dry and look like glass, sometimes the colour of coffee, borrowed from the neighbouring plants, I presume. The sambrani fetched some 12-15 rupees a kilo, now it is over double, Sarojini’s husband quips. He is from the hills, the forests, the proper forests where their people, the male-kudiyas, lived once. The adivasis, the tribals, the children of the earth.

Now they live in villages and tend to some land in the backyard and work for plantation owners who visit weekends, with their wine drinking friends from the city. Sambrani was what they sold and made their small change money from, these tribals. Even when the laws forbade it. The guards that were appointed to make sure no trees were cut or animals killed or produce sequestered away by the powers that could were neighbours, grandsons, friends that learnt to climb trees and swim together. So they would look the other way, back then. The forest was all that there was, to earn some change. The forest was all that was ever needed.

There are many reasons why Sarojini’s husband left the forest. The laws were just one slight angle to the list of aspirations, dreams, problems and poverty that marked out why they had to move. It sounds glorious, this living in the forests and tending to land and hunting for food and all that. It really isn’t, not with the poachers and the government and roads and people with the money. Even in the absence of these it is not easy. The same old story they all say, no medicines, no roads, no education, no respite from the relentless back breaking work if you have to eat and live, one day to the next. If not the glamour of living in the forest, the heart wrenching reasons for their movement is romanticized, politicized. Gosh, we never stop exoticising the tribal, do we? Such an easy trap this is. So convenient, so expected, even demanded, to write their story a certain way only.

Ah, yes, sambrani then. As we were talking, Sarojini went to a room beyond the front room we were all hunched up in and came out with a plastic bag full of the powdered sambrani. It must have been about a quarter of a kilo or so, I can never measure weights and distances in metres or feet just by looking. It is a form of dyslexia, I suppose. It doesn’t smell anything, just as it is. So she offers to bring in some coals and throw a handful in and proceeds to do so. The whole room and the bit of the courtyard smells warm and happy and nostalgic then, the sambrani is from the days of growing up, before the Good Knights, for keeping the mosquitoes away in summer. I tell her mother used to hold a plate of coals and sambrani under my wet hair to dry it. I tell her I hated lying still till it dried but the hair did smell lovely later.

Sarojini and her husband tell me that there is one sambrani tree in the estate they look after for the owner now. The people who work there cut away chunks from the dripping sap, saying they need it for evening prayers and for god and festivals. The workers who come from Bihar and Assam don’t know what to do with it, not much. But they are learning too, taking to the ways of this land, just like those here have taken to eating wheat for breakfast. All that that happens when cultures and languages and foods collide and mix and morph into the palates we are familiar with today.

Her husband says that he and his people are allowed to go into their forest, some 25 miles or 3-4 hours of steep climbing away, only once a year for a festival. Pigs and sheep are slaughtered and the festival goes on for three days. The heavy utensils and the spices and salt and water and blankets, everything is carried all that way. The forest officials have to give permission, he says, they believe in the god too, in how powerful this god can be. The god has a name Sarojini reverently calls out, when I make notes. The grandfather, a nameless grandfather who has been elevated to a god himself, is remembered and offered prayers and food.

This year they didn’t go, because an uncle who used to invoke the gods and who would get possessed every year, he died. The whole family won’t go this year. The families all take names that depict the hill they are from and some unique geographical features of the forest, a rock under which the beehive was, that sort of thing.

The sambrani in the packet looks tempting and I want to ask for some. The ones we get in the market is from farmed trees, harvested from a maintained, manicured grove, grown for the sole purpose of making sambrani powder to sell in hastily designed square packets. It is not the “real” stuff. But maybe they need it for the festival next year. They say there is only one tree in the plantation and everyone wants a piece of the glass.

Maybe the grandfather is satisfied only with the real stuff. Or maybe it doesn’t matter. In imagining the primitiveness of this festival, in the perceived ancient unborn traditions and practices, all I am doing is trying to write my exotic story too, this.