Climate Change Comes Calling

Suddenly, scattered rain has arrived with torrential magic in the east and north of India, the first terrain longing for more, and the latter parched, hopeless and tragic, now soaked with incomplete hope. Across the Hindi heartland the relief moves like a respite, but real optimism is still far away, because the water falling from the sky is too little and too late, especially in Purvanchal, where the earth is not green, there are no natural water resources, and no canal system either, as it is in the green revolution belt of fertile Western UP, Haryana and Punjab.

Indeed, this summer has been cruel after the end of the condemnation, sorrow and isolation of the pandemic; if there was a rainbow in the horizon, it was all in the mind.

The farmers in the deep of the Hindi heartland are thirsty and in despair. The migrant labourers who are also landless labourers during the agricultural season are in eternal sorrow; they too are thirsty and in despair. With tens of thousands jobless, the economy in a relentless slump, and no light at the end of the tunnel, they look up at the sky with empty eyes, knowing so well that this tryst with destiny is becoming more tragic than ever. And there is no respite.

From the rural interiors of Sasaram and Mughalsarai and beyond to Allahabad and Kanpur Dehat, across the Eastern UP terrain of parched earth, the farmers are expecting rain with a hopeless longing which no government seems to notice. In a country where multi-billionaires are being celebrated, who cares for the farmers and landless labourers anyway?

Even green and beautiful rural Bengal, surprisingly, is crying for rain. Unlike last year, trapped in the interiors of the same home day after day, Kal Boishaki arrived with its theatrical thunder, bereft of nuance or subtlety, and filled the air with lightning, thunderbolts, roaring clouds, and  all the drama and spectacle which only this Bengal phenomena can generate.

The sky would suddenly become dark like black ink, and turn into a mystical night of great mystery and romance, the sound and fury of the season would overwhelm and overpower all forms of softer narratives, and if you would whistle in the dark, it would simply vanish into the blue. Then rain would arrive in slanted, unfinished and diagonal sentences, like a symmetrical symphony of  Bach printed in the atmosphere, amidst the clouds and the sunshine, in the paddy fields and on the streets, playing hide and seek. The spectacle itself would heal the pandemic soul, and a damned and meaningless life would suddenly seem more precious once again.

This year, this phenomenon did not happen: the theatrics, the spectacle and the sound and fury. Instead, it was day after day of suffocating heat and humidity, with not a whiff of cool winds to soothe the soul, with huge deficiency of rainfall for the current paddy crop, and torrential rain just refusing to arrive.

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An old woman who sells fish in South 24 Paragana in Bengal went to Canning near Sunderbans to check if there is water in her fields. There was none. Or, not enough for the young crop.

A woman farmer in Sunderbans called up her daughter in Kolkata. “There is water everywhere in the rivers of Sunderbans, but it is full of salt. And the paddy fields are dying for water.”

A young school teacher in an adivasi village in district Birbhum told this reporter: “This year we can just about manage. If the crop fails again in the next season, we are doomed.”

Across Birbhum, either the land is barren, or the young plants are waiting for rain: the paddy needs more and more water. Across Malda and Murshidabad, even in Burdwan, etc, it is the same story. In this green expanse, hides a story of great expectations, and hidden sorrow.

Contrast this with the ritualistic and incessant floods in Assam and Bangladesh, with villages disappearing from the map, along with the documents of the citizens, and scores of people dead. The sight of flooded landscapes with people struggling to survive has become so routine every monsoon, that the media has almost stopped covering it, routine rhetoric of reaching out to the lakhs of marooned people is not even used anymore, it seems, and if there are aerial surveys, they don’t seem to bring in any tangible relief. The army, as always, gets into action, and effective rescue operations are undertaken. It seems, thereby, all is normal.

In Europe, America and the West, the heat wave is incomprehensible and intolerable, even as the poor in London who live in poor housing, cold in winter and hot in the summer, watch their homes burning, while cars move on the highway as if all is well and happy in Tory Britain. A train moves in Spain surrounded by raging fires on both sides, and passengers huddle inside the compartment, and the Al Jazeera news clip looks look like a tense Hollywood movie. Even while the forests, whatever little is left, are crackling with the jungle fires, moving like a bad dream across the urban landscape.

Writes George Monbiot (The Guardian, July 18, 2022): “Can we talk about it now? I mean the subject most of the media and most of the political class has been avoiding for so long. You know, the only subject that ultimately counts — the survival of life on Earth. Everyone knows, however carefully they avoid the topic, that, beside it, all the topics filling the front pages and obsessing the pundits are dust. Even the Times editors still publishing columns denying climate science know it. Even the candidates for the Tory leadership, ignoring or downplaying the issue, know it. Never has a silence been so loud or so resonant….

“…This is not a passive silence. It is an active silence, a fierce commitment to distraction and irrelevance in the face of an existential crisis. It is a void assiduously filled with trivia and amusement, gossip and spectacle. Talk about anything, but not about this. But while the people who dominate the means of communication frantically avoid the subject, the planet speaks, in a roar becoming impossible to ignore. These days of atmospheric rage, these heat-shocks and wildfires ignore the angry shushing and burst rudely into our silent retreat….”

And Africa, what about Africa, the infinite dark continent? Well, in India, this darkness is never reflected in the media, as is the darkness in our rural and tribal hinterland. For the mainline media, Africa simply does not exist.

The Guardian reports from Senegal: “There’s no water, there’s no grass near our homes so we have travelled now for a month,” says Sow, 18, who is heading for Tambacounda, a town that has long been on the route for Fulani herders. “We don’t have a choice. Our goats and cows need to eat and drink so we follow the road to wherever is greener. We don’t know where we will end up.”

The Indian farmer in many parts of the country, might be saying the same thing.