Wednesday, April 01, 2015

When Nature strikes

Destruction, hence, like creation, is one of Nature's mandates.
~Marquis de Sade, French thinker

Something is really the matter with our world these days. Heavens are refusing to let up. There is water everywhere in Kashmir. April used to be an utterly pleasant time, as far as I can remember, but not anymore. These days everyone and his uncle is watching over the flood gauge at Ram Munshi Bagh. Sure, there used to be rain earlier too but fear seldom prefixed Jhelum.

Carrying their big black umbrellas, people used go about work gingerly in Duckback shoes in those years. You would still find laborers, with inverted burlaps on their heads, waiting to be picked up in Lal Chowk. Women would usually make razma at home, which somehow, almost magically, tasted better with hot rice and pickle, during rains. Not anymore. Looks like the idea of a romantically wet spring is lost.

These days with the first hint of rainfall, everything goes under. Water has replaced CRPF men -- with twirled moustaches -- in our nightmares. May it be that we have entered into a phase of collective fear-psychosis, exacerbated by social media? Sadly one of the downers of living in information age is that bad news travels fast. Good news is like that tortoise in Aesop's Fable. Rumors run like hare in Kashmir.

Unfortunately there is no Omar Abdullah to blame this time. The new dispensation stays away from social media as if it were plague. One has to make do with the good old Radio Kashmir for its calm and sedate updates about the unfolding flood situation. Apart from putting out reliable information, they play good music too. It is only during political broadcasts that something happens to them. Suddenly they become government parrots.

Jokes apart, this is about serious stuff. Forget about finding faults with the government. With hardly enough money to pay salaries to its employees, where is the money to upgrade the infrastructure? Authorities do have responsibilities, loads of them, but people need to soul-search. Temperamentally we are a knee-jerk nation. In a super panic-mode right now, a month down the line, when the rains stop and situation stabilizes, everything will be conveniently forgotten.

The focus -- to upgrade our disaster management system and fix the shaky infrastructure -- is likely to waver. Everyone will basically continue with making new homes, railway tracks would be cut through natural barriers, flood channels would be encroached upon, wetlands will keep shrinking, pilgrims will ride in hundreds of thousands to glaciers and sewage will continue to fill up Dal. This shall continue till it rains again and suddenly we would be jolted into thinking that we might all sink. Over again.

How long shall we keep fooling ourselves? Every time I fly to Kashmir, the widespread disfiguration of its landscape astonishes me. It is a shame that hillocks in Srinagar should be blasted away to make way for more quarry sites and concrete structures should come up on ridges in the countryside. When we fell trees indiscriminately, crazily, the soil is bound to slip some day. And lo and behold, it is slipping now.

Nature, for which we often pat ourselves in Kashmir, has destructive powers. The same Jhelum, our lifeline since ages, can carry away structures poorly equipped to withstand its might. Bridges, houses, trees, and cars can wash away like detritus in its ferocious waters. The erosive force can easily drag dirt from under shaky foundations. Our homes, along with our greed, can quite easily take a tumble.

We must wrap our heads around the fact that we cannot afford to screw with nature because if we do that nature often has a very strong comeback. Disasters, lets not forget, are divine interventions in disguise. We, the people, are both the cause and the remedy.

Lets fix us.