Ret ka Rate
Today is an auspicious day. The owners have reserved it for the housewarming ceremony. A larger than life house in the heart of the city, with each rising floor hosting a separate function. The number of rooms almost triple the number of occupants. It is a lavish affair attended by eminent personalities and members of the city. Each looking in appreciation of the large concrete floors, the painted walls, the flooring and all aspects of the engineering marvel at display.
While everyone ogles, grunting voices accompanied by shoe stamping noises are heard from certain sections of the house.
The emotions are towards those grains that today find their place beneath everyone’s footwear. Grains that now lay unattended as left overs remaining to be wiped off the decorated flooring. Grains that are now nothing but a mere deterrent to the otherwise grand imagery of the place in display. Few months back, even some days back, these grains held a special position at this very location.
It was an essential for just about everything that the location is now boasting off. For executing the structure, for constructing the walls, to do the flooring and for all aspects that would require strength to uphold this house. These grains were precious and needed to be managed. It would be carefully sieved, mixed in proportions, carried on top of the head across stories, and stacked in heaps, under watchful eyes across a specific area of this place - where now stands a large garden for play. When it was stacked it was still a surface for play. At that time it was for a little child, who is not be seen today. The child of one those people who were helping construct the house.
The child would be seen climbing up the stack, then slip down, climb up again and tumble down once again. As he would sit at the bottom and collect the grains in his little palms, his mother would be seen setting up a cooking platform, using these grains as a base. In turn the rest of the people living in this under construction site, would take turns to sleep, rest and even sometimes dry their clothes on the heap of these grains.
Over the years, everyone who stayed at this location developed a certain sense of responsibility towards these grains. For not only the construction depended upon it but even they depended on it. For the time they had to spend here was directly proportional to the supply of the grains. The supply upon which they had no control over. It was only handed down, incrementally, irregularly and at times insufficiently from another place. Another place that was situated little distance away from this location.
The little distance is a tucked away corner within the city limit. Whose land it is, no one quite knows. And like this, there are few more pockets of such lands in critical locations around the city. Each of them bearing a similar appearance when viewed from a distance – like a bowl of dust. A closer look reveals a series of trucks lines behind each other, next to each other and occupying every inch of this land. Within these trucks loaded are the same grains. Now they appear to be in possession as each truck, that are safeguarded by men hovering around them. Monitoring, scrutinising and rigorously transacting the cost of each of the loaded trucks.
With each passing day, month and year, the cost of the dealing varied. No one to regulate the deal but just conducted under the surveillance of these men. The variations that were camouflaged under the requisites over demand was largely a resultant of the assumed ownership of these men over these grains. Who are they? No one really knows or dared to know. They are called the dealers, suppliers and various other names but in this bowl of dust, they are the ‘boss’ – the ones who have the final say. The ones who know are controlling all the growth of the city they are located in. Their control even at times would mean restricting the access, shutting down the place – even as the loaded trucks stand in the background. Why? There is no logical answer that is to be seen.
The answer mostly laid from the far-off distance from where these grains are filled up in the trucks. The trucks that travel miles to reach the dust bowl. From the hinterlands, the riverbeds and the coastal edges of the country crisscrossing states, check posts and tolls. At each of these crossing, the grains are investigated, hindered and inspected. And each time allowed to proceed only when transacted upon. How much? How many times? To whom? These questions are unaccounted for, unsaid and unregulated. But the transaction, everyone knows, is the only way to make the journey legitimate.
While these trucks are made to stand along the road side, another truck carrying people glance at them with hope. The grains, to them, do not immediately appear as a ‘deal’ but a reminder of their belonging.
The place where these very same grains cover the entire land as a rolling terrain. The place where people walk by foot across the grains in scorching heat without a trace of shade to fetch water for their livelihood. The grains which act as a foreground to the large palatial buildings, also act as a backdrop to these closely knit shelters giving a definition to an entire community, and also an identity of a living culture.
But where these trucks come filled up with grains bear no such familiarity. It comes from a ruthless ground where men and women toil day and night to meet the demand and supply cycle of the city. This same ground now has no identity, no legitimacy. Everyone here is tamed to work under a group of powerful men who have smuggled the ownership of the source – the river bed. Each working with one goal – extraction of these beds to mine grains so that no truck stands empty. How much? How many of them? Again, questions with no record, but it is a syndicate that functions on ungoverned mutual beneficiary grounds.
Men and women are brought into this lineage either by force, by temptation or even just to meet their daily sustenance. Most of them have given up their traditional livelihood practices only to be ensured of a regular income through these illegal practices. An income that comes at the cost of what surrounds them now. Depleted shores, polluted air, reduced water tables, eroded banks, dredged river beds, poor quality of soils, loss of aquatic life and corroded grounds. Without realising how they are affecting the environment under the vested interests or bureaucrats, ministers and other power play who have no direct relation to this surrounding.
A surrounding that was, only a few years ago, a mutual habitat for both people and organisms alike. Where people would be depended on the aquatic life for their source of living. Where creatures would nestle and breed along these riparian corridors, and where the water and soil had enough minerals for microorganisms to survive.
An ecosystem where stream banks would be hospitable for aquatic species, where large trees and grasses would support the river channels to prevent coarsening, limit flooding, support life and where people had the opportunity to recreate, imprint memories, share collectively and one that would be accessible to all. A living condition that once upon a time had deep rooted cultural and environmental values.
Today, is an auspicious day as the people gather around the religious fireplace that is stooled upon these very grains – the sand. Today, it is also the day where the imagination of sand is captured as deserts, beaches and as a resource that is so abundant around us in every street, in every locality and our daily infrastructure that we fail to look beyond. On one hand where it seems to be infinite, at the same time it is the most extracted resource in the country. For today, it is also the day where the country is exporting sand to meet our visions of development and progress.
Today we need to question what is development that aims to reach higher from the land by extracting deeper into river beds to meet our anthropocentric wants at the cost of environmental conditions. Extractions that have no legitimate records, no accountability but are made up of violations of legal processes of mining. Today, is the day when we need to find alternatives to build our own homes that are continuously being constructed by causing irreversible damages to aquatic species and organisms. And the life’s of so many natives.
Today is that day where we need to answer, what rate are we willing pay for ret?