Sunday, July 11, 2010

Deserts at my feet and clouds in my head

Hello all!

My time in Almora helped to solidify my interest in human made deserts. Looking at the history of the human race and our current situation it is obviously a major, if not the single biggest, source of real impoverishment. People destroy their land, and then what do they have? Nothing. No water, no food, no good air. Pakistan, Iraq, Greece, Cyprus, Crete, Sicily, Tunisia, Lebanon, Isreal. All great examples of beautiful lands destroyed by improper use. The same thing is currently happening in many parts of the world.

But there are areas and practices that have stood the test of time. Perhaps the big question for me is what these practices are and how to spread them, how to bring life back to the deserts.

I guess I’m studying this in the context of global warming and oil crisis also. I spent some time in activism, lobbying the government etc. But I suppose I got tired of asking other people to do things. It seem to me that we may have missed the boat on trying to prevent global warming, although not for lack of effort from groups like Greenpeace and Sierra Youth Coalition. International negotiation after negotiation has basically failed. So, in preparation for all the weird things that are predicted from a warming earth part of me has decided that studying ecological systems is the most useful thing I can do right now.

I wonder if central India will be evacuated as it warms. The temperatures in Delhi this summer reached 47 degrees C. Without abundant power how will people stay cool enough to even stay alive? Plants generally shut down at 42 degrees C and at some point begin to sustain heat damage. If this area of the earth experiences a rise of 4 degrees, will life as it is there now even be able to exist?

I’m beginning to question whether I’m really learning a whole lot about solutions in India.

I came to India with the hope of seeing a Satygraha campaign in action. To join one, work on one, and take those methods elsewhere. But from what I’ve seen, in India Gandhi is mostly history. His campaign methods are now a page in history books and are no longer alive and fully in use.

Where are the Satygrahi’s fighting corruption in India? Where are the campaigners standing with the Adivasis? Why did the Maoists even find it necessary to come to India, why do the Adivasis not use nonviolent methods? They don’t believe in them, of course. When organized crime was shooting up Chhatarpur, why did everyone in our ashram stay inside? Even with in “activist circles” I have seen nothing of what I was hoping to see. I have found a tragic absence of action based on the self sacrificing, well organized, disciplined model of Satygraha.

If you want to start a village industry, you have to pay bribe after bribe. Half the time the government offices aren’t even functioning at a basic level. Open at ten, take a two hour lunch and close early. Half the food in the public food distribution goes missing. Stolen by the very people who are supposed to be distributing it. That which remains doesn’t fit into the system properly because the is no recognition that half of it was stolen; how can as shopkeeper sell at the government regulated price when he has only half the food he paid for? Corruption in India is rife and for all the time I spent at Gandhi Ashram, Navdanya supposedly inspired by Gandhian ideals, Kausani Gandhi Ashram and other places I never heard of an effective non-violent compaign organized against it.

It’s not that I mean to really criticize what people are doing here in terms of activism. I just don’t see the reaching for the top, the struggling with the biggest issues around. I don’t see the big stuff being tackled. The things that Satygraha is meant to tackle. The issues that are so big you can hardly see them, the dangerous areas, the really deep-rooted, wide spread social problems. How can I criticize the organizations I’ve visited for their good work? Yet at the same time I’m just not finding a living version of the revolutionary philosophy I came to experience. The quiet work continues, like producing khadi, but it gets crushed under the larger issues that aren’t being addressed. Where’s the campaign, man?

Maybe Cesar Chavez is a better hope. Perhaps I should go to the US and try to become involved in the United Food Worker’s struggle.

Anyways, I’ve left Almora and spent a lovely two days at Kausani Ashram. I read Discourses on the Gita, which Gandhi wrote in 1929 at that same ashram. Then I went to Navdanya for a week to teach some children about testing irrigation water for salinity content. I had a good time hanging out with other foreigners, made some soap and distilled some essential oils. It was nice to look at the whole place again almost two months later. But it’s too expensive and dysfunctional for me to stay there very long.

I am now by myself in a little cabin near Chamba. I’m at an organic orchard overlooking the town, at 1000 m elevation. So far it has been very lovely although I had to set some things up with the cabin. The cabin is not quite fully functional. It’s mostly there but there are some issues. The water tank is filthy and leaks, I re-jigged the plumbing on the kitchen sink, jumped through hoops to get some propane to cook with and boil water with, bought a knife for the kitchen and so on.

I am at cloud level which is really beautiful when the clouds roll in. I have a great view of the town and lots of organic apples to eat. I pay for my own food. It’s nice and cool.

My job for the next three weeks is basically to think about how to bring the orchard back to production level. Right now it has been abandoned for a while. I don’t know much about orchards but the guy who owns the place knows even less it seems :-). So I’ll take a look, and hopefully get some help from the local university. It’s a great chance to learn about orchards on my own. Being an independent consultant is an idea I’ve been playing with, but I didn’t expect to end up in the situation so soon, albeit without pay!

I also plan to read The Pickwick Papers by Dickens and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad :-).

Here’s a view downhill of my cabin. 

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