SHASHIKIRAN MULLUR writes from Bangalore: Bon Jovi is singing in my ears a Welcome to Wherever You Are. From the treadmill, I watch the red tiles on the edges of the house across mine, laid merely as decoration skirting yellow walls.
It was a single-story building until last year when they rebuilt it as a two-storey structure with a single long room on the top floor. They are a family of three, all trained as doctors. The daughter finished her internship last year and decided she won’t be a doctor.
The long room is her studio, where she is working to be a writer.
I hear her often, when she whines demands to her parents and they indulge her with restrained exasperation. I think I know the rumbling in her mind. I am struggling myself, with the notion that I should pack away my 21-year-old career in business and jump into journalism.
Only a few years ago, such decisions weren’t easy in India—not for a 23-year-old—nor for one chasing 50.
Just a couple of days are left before Independence Day. Four other nations will celebrate their liberation on the same day: Bahrain, both the Koreas, and the Republic of Congo. We are probably receiving greater adulation and far more foreign investment than any of them at this moment.
Last week I hosted an NRI executive of a Fortune-500 corporation who was discussing an alliance with our company. I came to the meeting with him after a sojourn in Kadamane Estate where the wind and the rain performed an unceasing orgy with the trees and the tea.
It was a vast panorama in which no two minutes were the same, day or night. Men and their creations drooped and crouched in that outpouring of rain, left out, uninvited to Nature’s nuptials. It was a staggering spectacle, but I couldn’t help grieving for those high hills denuded for tea and coffee.
The hills across the river were completely bald and hopeless too, because the grass there catch fire when the monsoons leave and the sun comes upon them.
A major effort is needed to get the trees back on them which no one is willing to fund.
After a shot of scotch, I told the NRI about the denudation (for conversation), and I laughed a little (for bonhomie).
He turned serious: “Why do you cut the trees? Don’t you realize you will suffer in the end?”
He probably read my unspoken answer, that I have influence only over my family and those of my employees who might consider to heed me.
“Can you not advise the people who live there? In the US we never cut trees.”
I didn’t tell him that young men about his age came from Europe and cut down the jungles to grow tea and coffee a 150 years ago. Kadamane itself was thick jungle before Middleton, an Englishman, cleared it in 1860.
I didn’t tell the NRI these things, and he wouldn’t stop his harangue.
So I broke the rules of business and spoke of the number of trees that go for every head of beef that is sent from South America to North America to be steak on the American plate. By now we had reached sizzling point and we changed the subject taking no damage on either side.
In Kadamane, I spent time with the general manager, a field officer, retired old workmen, supervisors. All have sent away their young to Bangalore. Kadamane has been heaven for them, they say, but for their children they feel Bangalore is better, even if it be hell.
This estate is 12 kilometres from NH-48, which highway is fractured by rain, and by trucks carrying ore to Mangalore. The load on most trucks is not covered and the ore-dust flies in the face of people who were heretofore healthy; and in those few trucks which are covered, the cover is a flapping plastic sheet which rises like a serpent’s hood, and spits ore-dust at all.
At the exit from Hassan, the spill of ore from a truck that had once fallen won’t wash away with the rain, and the soil by the road has assumed a dirty red colour that is not of this region.
How will this change tell on these healthy people?
Cannonball (Supertramp) comes on, and the beat is heady and I levitate to visions of joining a non-violent crusade to Bellary that will lay siege to the mines.
The crusade declares that it will lift the siege only if the mines are nationalized, and standards are enforced for extraction and safe-shipping.
Then the crusade raises its ambitions and asks for the legislative bodies to be dissolved and for fresh elections to be held with candidates who are not criminals, who wish to truly serve their constituents.
The crusade demands that all those took money from the miners to win their seats last time should be forever banished from politics.
How like an Angola we are, in that those who plunder our land are its government!
Is there a Gopala Gowda lurking amongst us, waiting for his time, who will speak our frustration, cure us of this terrible impotence?
No, I realize.
Many, too many of us are pushed into the middle class and those that are not there are scrambling to get there soon, and though some of us speak of lost values and vanished principles, none will risk disruption of this opiate prosperity.
A few weeks ago, I felt old enough to allow Sujatha, our maid, to fall at my feet for a blessing on her birthday. My hand covered all her head and I made a wish for her to realize all she wanted. She is a bold girl, and I suspect she is tough with her god when she stakes her claims before Him. So (I believe) he has brought her from Periyapatna to Bangalore where, suddenly, anything is possible for everyone.
The treadmill has switched to cool-down, and B.B. King is thumping in my ears, When Love Came to Town. He wants to “get on that train.”
I’m just as upbeat.
I wish to get on a good train to somewhere myself.
Photograph: courtesy The Hindu
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