Home 2020 Cutting Through Disconnection

Cutting Through Disconnection

by Neha Chaudhuri

‘Did you see the video? A leopard was roaming the campus at night!’

‘How did it even get there?’

‘Where was security?’

‘What about our kids who go to school there?’ 

‘They should hire armed security to ensure safety.’

The evening news and evening-after WhatsApp group-messaging binge make a cocktail laced with paranoia masking as a parental concern.

I re-read the messages, spotted a rat snake lick the window wire-mesh and after a boring while, slither down the wall.  

I’ve become cautious with my watching – holding back on the immediate allocation of harmful intent – to a living creature I do not understand. 

When I was a new resident to the campus, I often watched, mesmerised, the rain pouring sheets upon sheets of water in July. One of our neighbours had a parking shed, and late one night, I heard a series of honks drowning the smattering of rain. 

A soaked cow stood under the slanting tin roof, refusing to make way – to walk out into the rain – and allow the neighbour to park. Finding herself at a stalemate of politeness, the neighbour resorted to cantankerous honking to get the car into its shed, and away from the rain. The cow ultimately gave in and squeezed under the rim of a window ledge. As soon as the neighbour left, the cow went to stand near the car’s dead engine to dry up for the night. 

A soaked cow stood under the slanting tin roof, refusing to make way – to walk out into the rain – and allow the neighbour to park.

‘A tortoise! Did you see?’

‘A fully grown tortoise. How did it get into the garden, where did it come from?’

‘Does Powai Lake have tortoises?’

The gardener held it up for me and asked, ‘You want to hold it? But be careful, it has a long neck.’

Like a five-year-old full of wonder and forgetting the dangers, I peered into its eyes and was taken aback for lack of my wonder being mirrored. This creature was scared by an encounter I found wondrous. The tortoise was visibly terrorised by its new situation, its eyes communicating far beyond what words could. 

I handed the tortoise to the gardener who let it back into the lake.

Without even realising it, in growing up the way I did, disconnection from Nature had become a natural state of being. 

Like a five-year-old full of wonder and forgetting the dangers, I peered into its eyes and was taken aback for lack of my wonder being mirrored. This creature was scared by an encounter I found wondrous.

I am perhaps the first generation from my family born and grown up in purely urban environments – where Nature was never Nature. She was nature – with a small ‘n’ – a thing that lined the roads, a distant memory of another life now being lived by other people in a land far far away, a mere supplier of sustenance and a background white noise coating the props rather than a center-stage protagonist driving the damn play.

That Nature – with a capital ‘N’ – was in mythological stories, folktales and prayer rituals – and those phenomena were old, wrinkled and unaccommodating of smartphones and the new freedoms that tech afforded teens of the ‘2000s. 

Tech also afforded comfort as yet unknown to humans;  so nice it is to binge-watch TV series, documentaries about forests and animals, or play games pretending to be heroes and fighting off the villains. How easy to think, ‘whatever I do sitting in my cubicle/room here doesn’t matter to that elephant tribe in Africa. “Africa is so far away’, not knowing that every email we send eats up energy and emits about ‘4 grams of CO2.’ 

Watching TV used to be a family affair, once a week not long ago. Now media bigwigs like Netflix have taken over with tailored content which ensures everyone watches their own thing – even if they all share one Netflix account. ‘Netflix said [about an hour of streaming video], in 2014, that the average customer had a carbon footprint of 300g per year.’ Yet we discuss solicitously what the kids watch: ‘oh the kids only watch National Geographic or Discovery style documentaries’. 

But we’re reaching a point where watching that documentary about seals is actually more harmful than not watching it at all. Netflix now has more than 167 million subscriptions worldwide – all watching tailored content – producing an average of 300g carbon a year. How much at the end of this year alone – you want to try multiplying the numbers? 

‘Videogames are surely harmless, we played them a lot in college too’, says my cousin sitting in the U.S.  Video games are touted as ‘The Thing To Do’ when you enter the campus as a new student: ‘As of January 18, 2014, just two months after their release, 8 million PS4 and Xbox One consoles had already been sold globally. Just these two months’ worth of sales will consume 8,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity and be responsible for the emissions of 3 million tonnes of CO2 over the life of the consoles,’ says the Natural Resources Defense Council’s 2014 report. 

IIT Bombay is famous for its flora and fauna. However, in the past few years, much of it has vanished at an alarming rate. The Institute is known for its world-class, cutting edge research and innovation and in the past few years, things have really picked up. Yet we have reached the start of a decade where these two can no longer survive by being at opposing ends of the spectrum – like the cow and the car. 

But we’re reaching a point where watching that documentary about seals is actually more harmful than not watching it at all.

Leopards are coming into campus because they have no place else to go. The large body of snakes the campus housed two decades ago has almost disappeared. If there are tortoises still in Powai lake, there won’t be any more soon because of its highly polluted waters. We sit comfortably and watch animals and birds from the beguiling dazzle of a screen that ends up busting way more carbon into the atmosphere than a small walk would lead to though we still have Nature surviving in our backyards.

From a worried teenager taking a water voyage to heckle world leaders to massive corporate spiel about ‘saving the environment’, many people across the world are talking about what clearly worries them. But the actions – of doing in order to protect, nurture and preserve – are not so clear-cut especially, where industry spiel is concerned. The campus, though still verdant in its green liveliness, is not immune to the pressures mounting across national borders and geographical locations when it comes to changing climates. Locally too, it is bowing to increased population load resulting in massive amounts of construction activity in the past ten years. Such a fluid ambiance is enabling the thriving of contradictions between words and actions, and therefore, worry and spiel. 

You wonder what you can do to set the balance just a tiny bit right – seeing as you are neither an entity with wide-ranging legislative powers nor an uninhibited Daughter of the Earth from mythological tales. You are city-born, city-bred, owing to your existence in equal measure to technological advancements and Nature – and you would not exist for lack of either. 

However, the doing of things begins with an individual. So they regurgitate and whack on my head – my grandmothers’ forgotten admonitions  – recycle things, don’t waste food, use the pencil till its very end, buy/keep only what you need and give away the rest who need it more. We need a few more of these tailored to new times – exercise restraint over tech and entertainment use, go out more, have the kids watch animals in real life rather than through the beguiling dazzle of a screen, have them look at families of birds and watch crabs scuttle sideways. 

Choose to walk overriding a car so you can spot a pigeon bathe in a puddle by the road as you reach your destination. Grow into individuals who can cut through the disconnect to show just how linked we all are and how we can still save the world – outside of a video game. 

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1 comment

Damayanti April 24, 2020 - 5:32 pm

This piece is so reflective and will resonate with many like me. A real pleasure to read Neha. Kudos.

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