We all know that the world is changing. That includes the stray dogs on Mumbai’s streets (who don’t find now a safe place to sleep) and the vultures flying over Mumbai’s landfills (who find hard to find dead meat in the rising dump of the construction and demolition waste) and the fish who don’t dare to come close to the shorelines of Mumbai and pile up there only when dead).
Many environmentalists think that we must introduce this new face of Mumbai to the children of Mumbai’s schools so that they are better prepared for the Kali Yuga. They are right because the changes we see in Mumbai are irreversible and just beyond mitigation. We all (including the dogs, vultures and the fish) have to accept a hopeless adaptation or atmasamarpan (meaning surrender). Many of the environmentalists therefore spoke to the Minister of Education at a cocktail party hosted by one of the prominent builders of Mumbai.
Kali Yuga, in Hinduism, is the fourth and worst of the four yugas (world ages) in a Yuga Cycle. Kali Yuga means “the age of Kali (demon)”, “the age of darkness”, “the age of vice and misery”, or “the age of quarrel and hypocrisy”.
The Minister in charge was very conscious and was not so happy about the changes in Mumbai and of course in the World. Being an environmentally conscious person himself, he called on my Professor Friend for advice. The professor, having worked with the International Financing Institutions (IFIs) strongly believed that a process of stakeholder engagement with an experiential approach should be followed (whatever these terms mean). Accordingly, he proposed to the Minister that we make a surprise visit to one of the schools in Mumbai and attend a class taken on environmental studies. The minister loved this idea. I was dragged in by the Professor as he always needed a person like me to be his sidekick and take the notes. We visited one of the middle class schools in the central part of Mumbai to be reasonably representative.
The Principal of the school was shocked to face the sudden visit by the Minister. But when Professor told him not to worry as this was not any kind of raid or act of ED (Enforcement Directorate) , the Principal was relieved.
To be a perfect host, Principal asked the Minister whether he would prefer tea or coffee. The Minister said that he did not have any particular preference. Since Minister didn’t say anything explicitly whether he would like to have tea or coffee, the Principal kept shut.
The class on environmental studies was on and a young woman in her early thirties was explaining the students the topic “Mumbai’s seasons”. When she saw our “squad” led by the Minister entering the class, she stopped teaching. We saw her embarrassed and perhaps scared. Professor then intervened and explained the purpose of our visit and asked her to continue her class and not to worry. The Teacher said that she was almost through explaining to the students the topic of seasons in Mumbai and right now it was the time for Q&A.
“Well then” said the Professor, let me ask a few questions to the students.
He pointed his figure at a girl wearing thick spectacles sitting on the front bench and asked, “My dear, please explain Mumbai’s monsoon season.”
The girl stood up and said “Mumbai’s monsoon is interspersed with long dry and intense wet spells causing flash floods due to the torrential showering of rains over a short time. Some believe that this is due to climate change. We associate monsoon with pictures of flooded areas, landslides, house collapses and pot holes in the street causing accidents. But monsoon is the best season for the industries and the municipality to let out untreated effluents in the stormwater and save costs of effluent treatment. In the monsoon, the air quality index of the city improves as most of the air pollution is washed away to the sea. When flooding leads to paralysis of Mumbai’s transportation system, we get holidays, schools are shut, and we can watch the afternoon serials on the TV channels. All of us were impressed with the girl’s realistic understanding of Mumbai’s monsoon and so praised the Teacher.
Principal asked the Minister once again if he would prefer tea, coffee or coca cola (I noticed that this time he had added one more option. Perhaps, he wanted to be more hospitable). The Minister said, “let me think”. So the Principal kept shut.
The professor then asked another student to explain Mumbai’s summer. The student said. Summers in Mumbai are getting scorchy every year. The heat island effect is increasing. This is however a good time for companies making air conditioners and selling ice creams. Most people stop going out and stay indoors or follow work from home. This greatly reduces pollution due to unnecessary transportation. Many cannot stand the situation of high temperatures and high humidity of Mumbai’s summer and hence prefer to spend time at hill stations around. This helps to improve the tourism industry and support local livelihoods. All of us were impressed with the students’ understanding of Mumbai’s summer season.
Principal asked the Minister once again if he would prefer tea, coffee, coca cola or fresh lime juice (I noticed that this time he had added one more option. Perhaps, he wanted to be even more generous). The Minister said, “thank you Principal but it becomes difficult when you are given so many options”. So the Principal kept shut.
A girl in the last row raised her hand to explain her understanding of the winter season in Mumbai. First of all, she said that Mumbai has now hardly any winter as the temperature rarely dips below 18 degrees centigrade. She associated Winter month with severe air pollution, a grey sky and advisories for senior citizens to avoid morning walks. This season, however, gives good business opportunities for those who make smog guns (although they are hardly effective), those manufacturing masks and indoor air purifiers and of course the pulmonary specialist doctors. Wearing of masks on a regular basis also helps the girls to avoid showing their faces to the lecherous goondas of Mumbai. She continued to elaborate an interesting socio-economic perspective of Mumbai’s winter season.
All of us, including the Minister, were impressed with the contemporary understanding of the students of Mumbai’s changing seasons. We congratulated the Teacher as well as the Principal.
I asked the Minister,
“Sir, if you have to choose a season to be in Mumbai, which season would be your choice” (I knew I sounded like the Principal asking the Minister if he wanted tea, coffee or coca cola)
The Minister smiled.
“This is a tough question Dr Modak, but does it really matter?”, He asked his PA to make a note and form a Committee.
He then turned to the Principal and said
“Since you have been asking me many times, let me go for the option of tea.”
I understood that some options are easy to choose but sometimes it is difficult when you do not really have an option or any choice to make.
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