Minister Qualtrough agrees to a meeting

Mar 22, 2016 — Minister Carla Qualtrough has agreed to a 45 minutes meeting about this petition. I am in the process of gathering a small but potent group to to see the Minister.

Here is an email sent to a few, which explains the issue, and should serve as an update.

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Dear friends,

Here is an update on the Glyphosate issue along with a proposal, if one of you feel strongly enough to join me to meet our MP and minister Carla Qualtrough on April 1st afternoon in Delta BC.

In order to explain, I need to give the background.

Glyphosate is a toxic chemical that is the primary ingredient in the commercial weed killer brand named “RoundUp”. It is produced by Monsanto. It is by far the most used herbicide in Canadian agriculture, same as in USA and some other countries. Because it is used in agriculture, this chemical is expected to be in our food, and as such, is being found in various foods such as cereals, packaged food, milk, beef and poultry.

That Glyphosate is safe for us, is supposed to have been verified by Health Canada, before approving its use. In order to verify that, it is expected to see results of safety tests conducted on target animals exposed to this chemical. Health Canada says it has seen that, but in all the 30 years of its use in Canada (and 35 years in USA), no citizen of any country has been allowed to see these safety test data.

I have a communication ongoing with the Ministry of health, Ottawa, through Access To Information Act, demanding that the Government releases any and all safety tests it has seen that is supposed to indicate that Glyphosate is safe for animals, or give me the legal reason why it cannot show me these documents. The Government has acknowledged I have the right (as should any Canadian) to see the safety records, but is dragging its feel and finding excuses to delay the process, which started under the Harper Government and, far as I can tell, is continuing under the Trudeau Government.

Meanwhile, I have a separate online petition, asking the Canadian Govt to release all safety test documents on Glyphosate to the Canadian public. That petition has over 22,000 support signatures, 98% of whom are Canadian. Their comments, my follow up information and the list of all supporters would make over 500 pages of printed matter.


After having a string of email communication with Dr. Seralini of France, I am preparing to open a separate ‘Access To Information’ case with the Government of Canada, to check if it has at all seen any safety tests on the entire formulation of the herbicide “RoundUp” with all its ingredients, which, together, is suspected to be more dangerous than Glyphosate alone by an order of dimension, perhaps hundreds of times more dangerous.

Meanwhile, I wrote to Minister Carla Qualtrough recently about Glyphosate, about the fact that Canadians have not been able to verify if the chemical is safe, and that, according my understanding of the law (Carla is a lawyer), if the safety data of a product cannot be disclosed to the people, the product itself cannot be released either. I then asked her to grant me an audience of a half hour, where I may tell her about this petition and hand over the 500 odd page document with a request to her to consider taking that material to Ottawa and deliver it to the Minister of health, even on the floor of the parliament if need be, and ask her to either respond to the Canadian people’s demand to release the hitherto secret safety documents, or explain why Canadians do not deserve to see these safety records, or perhaps agree to a parliamentary debate over this issue.

I asked Minister Qualtrough to let me know in case she is unwilling to see me, so I can widen my search and find any MP, even an opposition one, who is willing to place this item on the floor of our Parliament for a general debate. I have reason to believe this chemical is also triggering a possible extinction of our flora and fauna through release over our forests from air, by logging companies.

I have been notified by the office of Minister Qualtrough, through email and two separate phone calls, that:
1) I may visit her office for 45 minutes on 1st April.
2) I may bring the 500 odd page document
3) I may bring a few like minded folks, if I wished.

That is the story.

I am in the process of getting a wide-ranging but small group, to come with me. I write this to you to ask if any one person (sorry, no more room) among you might feel passionate enough to accompany me.
have two noted persons that agreed to visit Delta and join me. One is Dr. Thierry Vrain, who should need no introduction here.

The other is Kenneth Young, Canadian Military veteran, advisor on chemical defoliant to Canadian and many other international institutions, Canadian Veteran Advocacy group, and strong advocate on speaker on permanent damage done to veterans through exposure to toxins starting from Agent Orange, and going on to Glyphosate. He has spoken three times at March against Monsanto events in Downtown Vancouver along with me and Thierry, and travels widely across Canada and overseas on this issue. Currently in Ottawa meeting with a Government sponsored committee to contribute in the consultation on possible policy changes needed to deal with toxic exposure and pesticides. He agreed to come to Delta on his own and join me on April 1st in this meeting and lend his voice as needed.

I also have some nature lover and passionate Delta residents wishing to join me for the meeting.

In summary, the primary object of the meeting is to highlight legality of releasing a chemical into our food web while hiding its safety record from the people, and if Canadian citizens have or do not have a right to demand public release of these documents, the volume of which I am advised by Health Canada to go beyond 130,000 pages, all of them kept secret for over a generation.

So, if there is someone here that wishes to join up, let me know. We are in the talking process to figure out how to manage the 45 minutes and who might talk on what. We are also planning a lunch or something on April 1st in Delta, prior to the meeting to iron out any issue and to present a cohesive front.

Thanks and best wishes
Tony Mitra


Material towards the online petition on public demand for disclosure of safety documents have gone so large that I am contemplating converting it all into a future e-Book for record keeping.

Meanwhile, a new blog might me done on the people that are preparing to join me for the meeting. Who they are and what they might do, etc. I will work on this next week.

A talk with Rajesh Krishnan of Greenpeace India

Rajesh Krishnan, Greenpeace, India

On April 18, 2013, I spoke with Mr. Rajesh Krishnan, to learn about the current situation with GMO crops in India, from the perspective of Greenpeace.

Rajesh Krishnan is a sustainable agriculture campaigner at Greenpeace India.

The 29 minute conversation is included in the podcast link at the bottom of this page. A brief summary given below:

  1. India needs a shift in paradigm, away from industrial, input intensive, resource destroying model, to a sustainable one.
  2. Farmer suicide escalated since 1990s. To say farmer suicide have not been aggravated by GM crops would be like shutting your eyes from light. The suicide increased with industrial agriculture. With the last decade, adoption of MG crop has aggravated the need for more chemicals, more water input, more cost, and has increased the slope of the economic treadmill of the farmers. The need of pesticides have not gone down. It has increased. Along with need for more fertilizers. So GMO have increased the level of farmer distress, which was already bad since western agri-model was introduced here.
  3. Pesticide usage has had a serious impact on the environment. It kills various organisms in the soil, even beneficial ones that would themselves have attacked and controlled  pests. Pesticide spoils soil condition. The left over plant matter of the Bt. Cotton itself has also lead to harmful impact on the soil microbes, thus destroying the soil fertility.
  4. There are reports in Andhra Pradesh that sheep that browsed on the cotton plants after harvesting of Bt Cotton fields got sick or died. Animal husbandry department issued a notice advising against letting sheep graze on Bt cotton fields. But the genetically engineered crop appraisal body stated that the sheep death are not related to Bt Cotton. Several scientists have challenged this and claimed that there is not enough proof that the sheep death are not linked to Bt toxin, while circumstantial evidence points to a possible link.
  5. This may become an election issue. During the last election, the ruling party waived some farm loans as a temporary solution to farmer distress. This amounts to addressing the symptom rather than providing any real solution.
  6. The Govt is openly pushing for smaller farmers to leave farming, so that larger industrial farming can step in. But, there is no alternative employment available for the huge farming community. So they come to cities and become slum dwellers. There is evidence now that as soon as people lose their land, their food security falls drastically, and adds to the distress level of the internal migrants. It is going from bad to worse for the farmers in the country.
  7. Will there be an electoral backlash next year ? Well, there is no revolution yet from the distressed farmers – but there is a simmering swell of resistance ongoing for a while. Also, there has a very vibrant civil society that is pushing the Govt to seek long term sustainable solution to farming. This effort has cushioned the shock and in effect may be converting a potential revolution into an gradual evolution of farm policies.
  8. The moratorium on Bt. Brinjal (eggplant) has effectively stopped comercialization of all GM crops as well as its field trials, except for Bt. Cotton that is already in use.
  9. Agriculture is a federal issue according to the Indian constitution. However, provinces can say “no” to field trials. As such many provinces have complained to the federal Govt that field trials of GM crops have been started in their states without their agreement. Because of these oppositions, the central Govt has issued a directive that any application for field trial of GM crops in India would require a “no objection” certificate from the appropriate departments from the state Govt. This directive was enacted by the Govt of India in 2012. Since most provinces are showing reluctance to GM crop trials, even field trials are gradually coming to a halt.
  10. Civil society is now calling India to enact a bio-safety protection regime to safeguard India’s agriculture and environment from unintended harmful effect of badly designed GM crops. The idea is for the new law to adopt a “precautionary” approach to authorizing GM technology into the environment or the food chain.
  11. India will need continuous and sustained mass movement and public pressure to resist the enormous push by big money and corporations to take over the agriculture sector. India will need a continuous and wide ranging involvement of a lot of citizens in the country to be to maintain that public pressure to ensure food safety and biodiversity remains healthy and vibrant.
  12. There is an unfortunate situation in India were its traditional and homegrown knowledge is not given its due when compared to western imported industrial technics of agriculture. That is also why people who object to GM and industrial chemical dependent agriculture are branded as anti-science or back dated. But actually the civil society is not against science. There is a need to separate science from technology, and from tested, good technology from harmful tools. But the GMO lobby does not wish to get into those nuanced discussions. They simply paint every one raising questions as anti-science.
  13. India has moved in one decade from a place where there was no knowledge or debate on GMO to a place where there is a rising level of involvement and a very vibrant debate on GMO on agriculture. Latest is a strong group of scientists that have taken up this issue and criticizing the mindless way that the Govt of India is trying to push GMO for the benefit of corporations without regard to safety of the people.
  14. The agriculture minister, Mr. Sharad Pawar has been going around stating that if India does not adopt GM crop technology, then India’s food security may be compromised. Many different groups came out publicly opposing this view. The scientific community has come forward challenging this view and has pointed to scientific data how GM crops are not suitable for improving food security. Other civil society groups like “right to food” campaign, the farmer’s union, are all challenging that argument. It has been interesting to see how the debate on GM crop has evolved in India over the past decade, and all are now asking for a “precautionary” approach to GM crop, instead of a “promotional” approach.

There is no shortage of food. There is a shortage of humanity

Rajesh Krishnan of Greenpeace India, had sent out an email version of a report that first came out in Times of India by Devinder Sharma in Feb 2013. I got a copy of it through the group mailing list of India against GMO. I don’t know Mr. Sharma, but I do know Rajesh Krishnan, a sustainable agriculture campaigner from Greenpeace india. I am planning to call Rajesh up in the next few days, to record his views in his own voice on this issue, about the situation with India’s agriculture. Meanwhile, I thought I shall archive that report here on my blog, and ponder about a few paragraphs shown in red. Many readers commented there. A large number supported GMO and did not agree with the paper. A few did agree though. I did respond with my comments, to the paper, a screenshot of which is also inserted.

GM crops claim to increase yields, but the problem is of access and distribution, not production

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/GM-crops-claim-to-increase-yields-but-the-problem-is-of-access-and-distribution-not-production/articleshow/18716332.cms

By Devinder Sharma | Feb 28, 2013, 12.00 AM IST

Speaking at the annual Oxford Farming Conference a few weeks back, the rebel environmentalist Mark Lynas, who went over to the all-powerful GM industry, was quoted as saying: “Research published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests the world will require 100% more food to feed the maximum projected population adequately.”

It’s not the first time this argument has been used, but considering the emphasis Lynas laid on the capabilities of controversial genetic engineering technology to meet the growing demand for food, a flurry of articles and editorials appeared. The underlying argument is the same. The world needs to produce more for the year 2050, and therefore we need GM crops.

Well, what population projections are we talking of? The planet today hosts seven billion people, and all estimates point to population growing to nine billion by 2050. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), more than 870 million people were chronically undernourished in 2012, with almost 250 million of the world’s hungry living in India.

These appalling statistics generate an impression of an acute shortfall in food production. At every conference, the same sets of statistics are flashed to justify the commercialisation of GM crops. But how much food is globally available? Is the world really witnessing a shortfall in food production? Or, for that matter, is there a shortage of food in India? These are the questions that have been very conveniently overlooked.

Let us therefore take a look at the performance of global agriculture in the year 2012. Despite the severe drought in the US and Australia, where wheat production is anticipated to fall by 40%, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that the world still harvested 2239.4 million metric tonnes, enough to feed 13 billion people at one pound per day.

In other words, the food being globally produced today can feed twice the existing population. According to the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), against the average requirement of about 2,400 calories per capita, what is presently available is 4,600 calories. So where is the crisis on the food production front? The crisis is in food (mis)management, which surprisingly is being ignored.

In the US, Canada and Europe, 40% food is wasted. For example, Americans waste $165 billion worth of food every year, which could very well meet the entire requirement of sub-Saharan Africa. Food wasted in Italy, if saved, can feed the entire population of the hungry in Ethiopia. According to the UK Institution of Mechanical Engineers, almost half the food produced globally is allowed to go waste. Studies show that 50% of fruits and vegetables stocked by supermarkets in US actually rot. If all the food wastage was to be appreciably reduced, hunger and malnutrition can easily become history.

In India too, it is not a crisis in food production. On Jan 1, India had 66 million tonnes of food stocks. As someone has said, if you were to stack all those bags of grain one over the other, you could climb up to the moon and back. That’s the quantity of food that has been available almost every year since 2001. 

While visuals of food rotting in godowns are fresh in the memory, the government has been merrily exporting the surplus rather than feeding its hungry millions. This fiscal, wheat exports are expected to touch 9.5 million tonnes; rice exports have already crossed nine million tonnes in 2011-12. Instead of propping up food procurement and distribution, the food ministry is actually toying with the idea of withdrawing from procurement operations and using surplus stocks in futures trading, leaving the hungry to be fed by the markets.

Meanwhile, GM crops are being promoted as the answer to growing food needs. In reality, there is no GM crop in the world that actually increases crop productivity. In fact, the yields of GM corn and GM soybean, if USDA is to be believed, are actually less than the non-GM varieties.

Nor has the promise of a drastic reduction in the usage of harmful pesticides proved to be correct. Charles Benbrook of the Washington State University has conclusively shown that between 1996 and 2011, the overall pesticides use in US has risen by a whopping 144 million kg. In addition, as much as 14.5 million acres is afflicted with ‘super-weeds’ — weeds that are very difficult to control. And such has been the contamination that 23 weeds now fall in the category of ‘super-weeds’.

Regarding safety, a few months back the revelations by Giles-Eric Seralini, a molecular biologist at the University of Caen in France, shocked the world when for the first time he demonstrated long-term studies involving rats fed for two years with Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready GM maize. The rats had developed huge kidney and mammary gland tumours, had problems with their body organs and showed increased mortalities.

Against the usual practice of such studies involving feeding rats with GM foods for 90 days, Seralini had for the first time ever experimented with rats for two years, which corresponds to the entire human lifespan. As expected, the shocking results, peer-reviewed and published in a respected scientific journal, have already created quite a furore internationally.My comment to TOI

I therefore don’t understand the need to take a huge risk with human health and environment when there is food available in abundance. The greater challenge is to curb wastage, provide adequate access and ensure judicious distribution of food.

The writer (Devinder Sharma) is a food and agriculture analyst.

Sent out by : Rajesh Krishnan, Sustainable Agriculture Campaign, Greenpeace India

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Meanwhile, I am searching for a way to contact the original writer Mr. Sharma, in a hope of establishing a contact, and hearing his point of view too.

My grandmother and Vrindavana Bilashini

বৃন্দবন বিলাসিনী রাই আমাদের

After a long time, I spent some time with audio files and recording, towards possible re-engagements with some podcast making.

Can you hear it ?

Quantum mechanics or mass hysteria?

Good things come in small doses, or don’t they ?
I was sitting at the waters edge, and thinking about it all. I do sit by the water at times. In Boundary bay, they have a few benches suitably located, facing the ocean. If the tide is low, you can see shore birds pecking at the mud and among the shells and pebbles. If the tide was in, you could see flocks of Brants or Canada Geese.
I have at times looked at the green winged teal and wondered about their lifestyle.

But that is not supposed to be the subject of this, this, this … I wonder what this is. It is a chapter in a story? Is it an essay? More likely it is one more rambling of mine, in an increasing series.
So, while good things might come in small doses, I wondered what kind of stuff I was dosing out in my blogs. It was like a mysterious double helix.
I, Tonu, was thinking about balancing out my ramblings between the novel and the diary. Could a diary-novel combination qualify as a double helix?
One one side, I had an expanding number of episodes on a blog that could loosely thread together as a basic theme of a novel or a mini series of soap opera that involves an opinionated immigrant from India in his thirties, and a young Canadian woman, Mabel Rechardsen, who is largely in awe of the man and contributes little if any individuality in the story line. Then there was the other series, a list of ramblings which were neither essays nor quite systematic in their arrangement, of my own ramblings, mostly about the state of the planet. In short, these were ramblings mostly about the state of my own mind – which was not in a state of equilibrium.
And while writing all that, I at times send out a number of mini-episodes of the basic story of Neil impressing Mabel. And then I get tired of it. Actually, I get more frustrated that tired, to be truthful. And the frustration comes from a lack of strong conviction on how that story should end, or if indeed it should ever end. From one point of view, considering the history of this universe, or the solar system, or this planet, or even the story of life on it, from what little we know, it is almost a never ending story that advances in small increments.
But, I am only writing a story. A written story cannot be compared with to the  story of the existence of the universe., or can it? In the greater scheme of things, is the universe, and the story that Tonu writes, are in essence comparable. If the universe as we know it had a beginning, or a birth, and if it is going to have an ending, or a death, then should the story too have a birth and a death. Come to think of it, one can hesitate to use terms like birth of a universe. Even today, scientists are arguing about the big bang and if that was a one time affair, or cyclical. They cannot likely agree on if the universe is going to expand forever and end into nothingness, or if it will run out of steam of expansion, and eventually begin to contract and end up into a an infinitesimally small vanishing point of nothingness. Either way, whether it vanishes into an expanded oblivion or a contracted one, is the whole story only a one-time one, or is it cyclically to be repeated ad infinitum?
If we are to believe the hindu philosophy, then we can bring in the art form of dancing into it, and get the God of dances, Nataraja, perform his dance or creation, and then, when the universe is bubbling over with creative energy, he may tire of it and change it to a dance of destruction, only to reverse back again. It involves a lot of dancing, but, the side effect is, we get a lot of creation and destruction.
We have seen through nature as be understand it on the planet earth, there is cyclical creation and destruction. Once season often wipes out changes brought forward in the previous season, but only to lay the groundwork for more changes to come as a result. We have seen rivers destroy the land on one bank and create more land on the other.

So, creation and destructions at one level are flip sides of a same coin. One cannot have creation, unless there is also some destruction. This is self evident when it comes to many things that are finite. Land may not be created indefinitely, and can only be balanced by land disappearing elsewhere. Oceans cannot rise or fall indefinitely, without a corresponding amount of water being locked, or released from land bound icecaps and glaciers.
But, how about a story?
Tonu was not Nataraj. In fact, I have no training or knowledge of the kind of dance Nataraja might have engaged in. Anycase, he had multiple hands, if I remember right. That could well be untrue and an expression of an over-exuberant devotee of the past that decided to add limbs to the god while creating an image of his dance of creation-destruction.
The last time I had any kind of training in dancing, was at the age of sixteen. I was in college in Bombay and we had a college social coming up. I was a newbie from Bengal, but wanted to come up equal to the local boys. To do that, I had to accomplish two things. The first was to have a girl come to the party in the college. The second was to take her up to the dance floor and dance with her, as well as be allowed to dance with others in exchange.
The college seniors thought, correctly, that many of the students from out of town would not be able to get a girl to come, and that this would overly skew the male-female ratio and cause a mad scramble of too many males trying to dance with too few females. Therefore, those male students that had a girl partner, were to sit segregated from those without a partner. The unattached males were not allowed to come to the dance floor, and could only watch the proceedings, or move on for the dinner or coffee or chit chat.


And so, I had decided, newbie or not, from the other end of India or not, I was not going to be sitting out and looking in. I had solved the first problem by asking my uncle, who lived in Bombay and was a journalist, to help me find a suitable girl. As it happened, it was the aunt that helped out.
But then there was the second issue. The girl in question, the daughter of my aunts friend, new how to dance, for sure. But I did not. And I had only two weeks to learn. There were some dance schools, but there wasn’t enough time, and I did not have enough money in my pocket, for a crash course.
And so, I solved in another way. When I asked the girl to come to the social, I told her I did not know how to dance and needed some training. I was hoping that she might teach me. But she thought her mother is a much better teacher. And thus, for two weeks, I went to her house every evening, and my aunts friend, the mother of the girl, taught me how to do fox-trot, waltz and cha cha cha – only to the extent an opinionated Bengali boy of sixteen could pick up in two weeks.
I don’t even know why I wrote all this – except to impress upon any chance reader, that there is no way in hell my dancing should be considered even remotely comparable to what the god of dance, Nataraja might be doing up in the cosmos somewhere. And to make things more complex, I do not really believe in creationism or of existence of a god as described in various institutionalized religions. Come to think of it, I am not even sure if Hinduism qualifies as an institutionalized religion. Instead of being an organized religion with a hierarchy and a line of control, Hinduism often appears like a loosely defined description of human behavior that is halfway between mass hysteria and quantum mechanics. And I can live with quantum mechanics, though I can do without mass hysteria.
See, this is one of the basic issues of my writings. I end up occupying four or five pages of text without actually saying anything – not a damned thing.
There is absolutely no good reason to compare me with Nataraja. He does not exist, and I do, at least according to Tonu. Besides, he has many hands and I type with just two. He knows how to dance, while I barely managed to get a girl in the college social in my first year, in Bombay.
And my story of Neil has not moved much, even if the characters in the story have covered a lot of ground, both in time and space. As far as time goes, I think they went back more than five hundred million years. As to space, they had driven close to a thousand kilometers east from Vancouver, and had spent some time in the Yoho and the Kootenay national parts on the Rocky mountains.
But, when it comes to proceeding according to plan, the characters were doing better than the writer. I was moving them around without any definite plan, and was just enjoying the ever evolving chapters.
Was Nataraj doing whatever he did, for the same reason – joy of bringing change in an otherwise unchanging and boring existence ? Hmm, whether he was real or not, he might have had something there. Or rather, the fertile minds that created Nataraja, had really something there. I wish I could .. Well, here I go rambling again.
I had thought of writing a lot of stuff, inside or outside of the story. There was this disenchantment with the middle class mindset. More I thought of it, more I got convinced that the ills of the world were either because the middle class brought in on, or because the middle class did not stop it. Either way, in my eyes, the buck stops at the feet of the middle class. It is not the politicians who are to be blamed. It is not the corporate raiders, or the mafia, or the dictatorial goons or the war mongering governments. It is the middle class, the only entity that is powerful enough to bring change, that is responsible for all the shit that is happening everywhere.
And what makes it worse, is that I am part of that middle class. This is where things could begin to get bad, and I try to grasp at the spring grass at the ledge, to prevent sliding into the slippery slope of self loathing. Is there a way to mix all that with the mass hysteria on one side, and quantum mechanics of the other ?
That got me to thinking. Recently, I met an interesting young man that was doing post-doctoral work at the University of British Columbia and his subject was, simply, condensation. No, it is not quite the kind of condensation that results in dew drops forming on blades of grass on a cool morning, pleasing as the sight may be. And it is not the kind of droplets that you sometimes will find on the windscreen of your vehicle, to be swept away quickly by the wiper.
It has something to do with the state of matter at near absolute zero level of energy, or temperature. Bose and Einstein wrote about it way back in the early parts of last century. Some folks even coined a new term – God particle, as something vaguely related to it. Incidentally, no machine has so far been invented by man that could capture god and prove to us of his existence. There is some sort of a machine built recently in Europe which is supposed to do many things, including prove the presence of the god particle. But so far, God is proving to be elusive, either whole or in particle.
And so, six pages into this episode, I am still contemplating if I should be writing a piece of my rambling on anything at all, or just about mass hysteria or quantum mechanics. Meanwhile, what about that young man I met, who is researching condensation ? Well, at this point of time, I shall hazard a guess that, the young man most certainly displays signs of being alive and talking, Schrodinger’s cat Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle notwithstanding. There may be a time and place, along with a set of conditions, where the young man might be perceived as both dead and alive at the same time, and the uncertainty may never be properly resolved, but I am not in that time and place and have not agreed to those conditions as yet.
So then, what happens to my story, and about my rambling? Can the story and the ramble merge and overlap and be present and not present the same time? Can the story be of Neil the young immigrant and of Tonu the opinionated writer at the same time? Can I avoid the mass hysteria and alternate between multiple realities of a quantum writer? Could I, for example dance both Foxtrot and Waltz the same time, but only as perceived by two different persons. To one I was dancing, badly, a waltz, and to the other, who might have actually been ogling my six year old date, I was dancing foxtrot, also badly?
I had thought of writing about the story of organising a Vancouver chapter for Association for India’s Development, or AID. It has been a subject of some conviction for me for some years now. But instead, I ended up writing of a hypothetical cat that might have been both dead and alive the same time, as presented as a thought experiment by Erwin Schrodinger a few years after getting the Nobel prize in Physics in the 1930s.
If this was not yet the time for writing about an AID chapter for Vancouver, perhaps I could talk about Ms Loretta Napoleoni’s book on Rogue economics, and discuss how alarming the situation was regarding nasty people with the help of bad money getting into good institutions and thus turning the lives of normal people on their head. I was going to analyze what one even means by normal people.
I do not know if Napoleoni had Italian ancestry, or if the name had other roots. For that matter, I had also read a book named “Bad money”, by Kevin Philips. For all you know, any idiom or expression I use here, might turn out to be the name of a legitimate book by someone, somewhere, unless I was thinking of writing a book with name such as “I sat on the head of Nebuchadnezzar”. But then I did not sit on his head, or anybody else’s and do not have a good idea about the Biblical man. I don’t even know if he wore a turban or not, and if it was at all practical to conceive about sitting on his head. And finally, who knows, perhaps some nut case had already written a book about sitting even on that man’s head. You can never tell.
Leaving Nebuchadnezzar on his Biblical throne, I could move sideways to the world of genetic evolution and the writings of Dawkins – such as The Selfish Gene. But, as soon as you mention the world Selfish, the first image that seems to come to me is that of the middle class. Could there be such a thing as the Middle class gene ?
There should be, don’t you think ?
ON that thought, I decided to get up from the bench by the water, and head home.
Tide was in.

Missing the world of his father’s paintings

“There was a movie, in Bengali, with that name – Storm Warning” Neil mused.
“Really ? What did it say about the climate? Was it in English?”
They were sitting on a large boulder by the side of a small river fighting its way through an iced up landscape, early in the afternoon on the Easter Friday, in among the Cascade mountains. They had a few hundred kilometers still to go to reach their destination for the night – in the town of Golden.
They had been discussing climate change, and what might be in store for the planet, for the continent, for Canada and for British Columbia, a very loaded subject. They did not have depth of comprehension – but both knew things were reaching a crisis point, and information was not easy to get because the authorities seem to be either in denial, or unwilling to alarm the public. They were not calling a spade a spade.

Neil picked up a pebble and tossed it down the slope to the edge of the water. He wondered about the high concentration of sharp stone fragments below them. These were not pebbles that were pushed a long distance by a fast flowing river, helping to grind and polish them into smooth spheroids. He briefly wondered if these were crushed from the nearby peaks through past seismic tremors, or broken from the rocks by an ancient glacier and left at the current location. They were not exactly at the foothill of a sliding slope, so they did not get here from a recent rock fall or an avalanche.
He sometimes wished he was a geologist, or at least knew a bit more about geology.
His thoughts returned to Mabel’s question.
He had been talking about tell tale signs of impending trouble, and used the term Storm warning to drive a point. It was then that he remembered the Bengali movie. It wasn’t about Climate change. It was a different time, and the warning was of something else equally menacing for the people of Bengal – an impending famine that would kill millions, in the middle of the second world war. It was now acknowledged that the famine was man made, and not by natural calamity. The world war had something to do with it. The British Empire’s handling of the situation which perhaps indicated less regard for life of Indians than lives of the British, also were likely factors.

Anyhow, the name of the movie – by Satyajit Ray, came to him.
“It was not about climate change, but about an impending famine. It was in Bengali, and the name of the film in Bengali was Asani Sanket, which means storm warning. Somehow, the situation now reminded me of that movie. Villagers at the front line of the worsening situation did not have a good grasp of what was happening and why, since there was no draught and drastic drop of food grain production. Things appeared to go on as it always had. But there were tell tale signs, some folks were beginning to starve for no good reason. News was difficult to come by. Folks did not know things were slowly reaching a crisis point, till the crisis actually hit them in the face.”
Mabel was listening, tilting her head as if cocking an ear in a typical way that only she could do. She was also poking at a bit of snow tucked at the corner of a boulder near her feet.
“I’d like to see that movie, if you will explain the scenes to me. And also explain why and how the famine came by.”
“Hmmm… I have to see if its available on line, or if I can get a DVD” Neil nodded.
“Situation with the coming Climate Uncertainty is not too different. We are living in the information age – with the world wired up and news traveling around at the speed of light. And yet, the silence about the impending storm is mind boggling.”
“And you like Mukherjee and Dyer.” Mabel observed.
Neil chuckled. He had told her about another book, by Madhusree Mukherjee, on Churchill’s actions, or lack of it, with regard to the ill-famed Bengal famine of 1943. And Gwynne Dyer had written a book that he had in the eBook format, and often referred to, called Climate Wars. Dyer’s book was written more like a science fiction, written based on a future date. It did not predict what might happen in the future. Rather, the book pretends that it is already in the future, and is talking about historical things that has happened in the past. But the past involves the future for the current Calendar.
“You gotta read Dyer. He predicts what happens to Canada, but more importantly, what happens to the US-Mexico border and what happens to Mexico, when the world runs short of food and more or less stops selling excess grain in the world market. Mexico descends into anarchy and its population shrinks by thirty or forty million people.”
“My God !”
“Well, you should read it. It is not designed as a science fiction, but a very likely scenario with a lot of supporting comments and explanations. Things do not end up well for a whole lot of countries – and not just Mexico.”
Mabel signed. “What is one to do?”
Neil stretched his legs. “Singularly, there may be nothing one can do. Collectively, surely there are things one can do. But I have a feeling even the strongest of the Climate Change believers and sustainable living proponents are not coming clean and not calling a spade a spade. And that, for me, is a bit frustrating. However, I can understand some of the reasoning. One can compare the public with lemmings on one side, or the flightless cormorants of the Galapagos, on the other.”
It occurred to Mabel that Neil probably had a vivid imagination.
“Lemmings ?”

Neil was watching the reflection of the white patches of cloud on calm waters of the river below them.
“You know what they say. True or not, they explode in population till they are so many that they have eaten through the food source and there is nothing left to eat, and the land cannot sustain such large numbers. A big chunk of them must die in one shot. Story goes that they go shoulder to shoulder and jump in the ocean to drown and die. Some folks say this is not correct, and that lemmings are not stupid. They do not commit mass suicide, but are forced to die in large numbers when their super fast reproduction system goes out of control and the populations shoots well past the sustainability level for a lean year. Anyhow, I have never seen a lemming in the wild, suicidal or otherwise.”
Mabel tossed another pebble towards the water, but it landed short, in the snow. Her folks were not too religious. She had a girlfriend whose mom was a liberal activist and passionate about individual rights and human rights, anti-war, feminism, open borders and so on. But Mabel could not remember her talking about any impending doom with relation to climate or human population, or about the constant degradation of the environment, a move from a sustainable plane to an unsustainable one.
“I do not have relatives or friends that talk or think the way you do, about the declining quality of our environment to the extent that it is an existential threat to all higher order animals.”
———-
At this point, Tonu stopped and looked up at the cream painted ceiling of his study. It was quarter to six in the morning of Saturday, a week after his trip to the mountains. It was going to be a sunny day, and he was planning to check out the Squamish estuary area in the morning. It would be a hundred kilometer northward drive along the sea-to-sky highway. The ocean, a tiny finger of the pacific, pokes into the land with towering mountains on both sides. The Squamish river meets the ocean at that point, creating a narrow strip of sea level estuary, rich with its own eco-system and wild life.
Meanwhile, he had woken up at his usual early hour and contemplated writing a few more pages. There was no important emails waiting for him, and the earth had spun a few more degrees without further incidence other than the general degradation of things.
He wondered if Neil, his creation, should be influenced by the paintings of his, Tonu’s, father. Tonu remembered the sketches and paintings his father worked on, mostly following the general theme of simple rural life and landscape that were captured on board. He was a student of Nandalal Bose, the esteemed Indian artist of the first half of last century, who himself was a student of Abanindranath Tagore and was influenced by Rabindranath Tagore during his days in Santiniketan. Depiction of rural landscape and rural lifestyle had priority in their view. He, Tonu, thought of this movement as a theme that had two objectives. One was a recognition that rural background was where India was culturally, aesthetically, artistically, economically and spiritually anchored and rooted. Therefore this back to the village artistic movement was not a backward motion against modernism, but a realization that modernism in India had missed the sustainability bus.
The second part of the movement was to create an appreciation in the collective psyche of the Bengali and Indian middle class, of the timelessness and beauty of things simple and rural. India was fast creating an additional layer of a caste system, between the city dwellers and the villagers. This psychological as well as economic and cultural division, over and above all the other divisions that man had created for himself in the Indian subcontinent, was a further humanitarian blow to the evolving social order in India. Rabindranath Tagore, the poet with a vision, realized that this needed to be eradicated. That vision showed up everywhere, including in the art created in his time and in the immediate aftermath of his demise.
Modernism, however, was going to come to India, and it would ultimately muddy the water about rural and urban divide as well as take the focus away from the village so much, that future artists would be, Tonu felt, hanging in suspended animation, attempting to give their art a somewhat “ethnic” Indian flavor, while same time pandering to the western world for recognition, and take advantage of the recent western accommodation for appreciation of non-western art forms.
The whole thing, Tonu felt, was bizarre. Art was supposed to imitate life. But life itself had gotten so artificial, that this falseness was bound to be reflected in art, especially of the second and third generation of artists that come out of the same school as founded by Tagore and now spread across the globe. And those that still remained anchored to the original theme of rural India, faded in the backwaters in the world of Indian art. Artists that cannot draw a tail on a donkey, but can make false copies of western cubism or impressionism, where the hot topics in the drawing rooms of the new rich. Industrialists that have come into money, and feel the urge to promote art – define art in their own myopic view of India and the world, and the rest, Tonu felt sadly, is history.
However, this sad story too needed to be told, in his own tiny way, as the world, including India, were busy recklessly following a false modernism and sliding down the ever steepening slope of an existential crisis with regard to squeezing the planetary lemon dry.
He was hesitant about jotting down his feelings openly, as he personally knew a lot of people that came out of the art school. Besides, he was no expert in art. In fact, he was no expert on anything. And yet, he was tired of pseudo artists and pseudo writers and false intellectuals, unscrupulous industrialists and phony political ideologues who unnecessarily muddy up any issue till there is no clear perspective left on any topic. He was also tired, in a way, at the hapless public dancing at the end of the trivia string.
But his comments were not directed towards people he knew. It was at the general direction where mankind of taking itself and the rest of existence as humans could perceive it. To him, these are connected. He could relate to the changing scene in Canada, to that in India, or USA or Africa. And most of it was man made. Most of it was unsustainable. Most of it was a direct result of man’s increasing level of interference with the planet’s health.
One of the earliest visionaries to have realized the imbalance, at least partially, was perhaps Rabindranath himself. He saw it as a grotesque takeover of india’s cultural, spiritual and aesthetic steering wheel by a newly emerging urban class that lacked a depth of perception, or willingness to investigate long term effects of their presumed lifestyle goals, and a blind intoxication with a western definition of development that was itself bankrupt as a perpetual formula.
Tagore instinctively understood that the urban class may turn out to be the agent of destruction for India, unless it could be made to appreciate the need for a healthy balance between the rural and the urban. The western societies understood it. But a modernizing India did not. Tagore spoke about it and wrote about it. But it is doubtful if his countless admirers and hangers on actually understood the cause of the poet’s anxiety.
Tonu’s father used pastel and earth colors on boards more than water or oil color on canvas. Tonu had spend hours with his father, grinding hollow rocks on a grinding stone, extracting earth colors, which would be solved in water and kept in glass jars, to be used on future paintings on boards as well as in murals on walls. Collecting earth colors from the earth was a big adventure for him in his youth, and likely played a big role in his love for undisturbed nature and how it trumped man-made alterations of the landscape.
The thought of his father’s sketches and paintings were not a random intrusion into the flow of the story where Neil and Mabel were traveling into the Cascade mountains of British Columbia. There was a connection here.
His father drew and sketched scenes that, in Tonu’s own life, had slowly vanished from those very spots where his dad had observed them. Those open lands had now been concretized,  asphalted, civilized, crammed with people, turned into a filthy near slum urban sprawl.
This, to him, indicated two things that were inter-related and going on, generation to generation, perhaps all over the world. One of them was the destructiveness of an over-producing, over-consuming, over-altering, over-mechanizing civilization. The other was an ever greater expansion of the human population.
So, on one side, each human in progressive generations was demanding a greater and greater footprint for himself on this planet. Then, on top of it, people have brought more people and even more people, on the planet, each striving his best to increase his own size of footprint. This was another kind of an out of control snowball – a positive feedback loop gone wild. This was, in Tonu’s mind, not too different from what is happening in Europe, in the Americas, or even in the Antarctica. The difference should not be measured between regions. Rather, the change is within. Greenland might appear remote and cold compared to Singapore. But Greenland is less remote, less cold and less pristine, than Greenland was a century ago.
And so, Tonu decided to include his own fathers painting into the story, but pretending that to be Neil’s recollection of his own father. Tonu had, in that way, converted his own dad from a real to a fictional personality. One that was, just like the scenes he painted of, slowing fading from the planet.
————
Neil nodded. “Its not that I have a lot of relatives that scream about the changing world in any realistic way. My grandmother used to talk about times when things were very cheap and how everything costs so much more these days. My cousins might talk about how it was easier and more relaxing to be in school and college in our times and how things have gotten so stressful in India for a student. The pressure to perform is so great, the stakes are so high, that sometimes a student is pushed into committing suicide because she or she scored 95 out of a hundred instead of 99.”
He thought for a while, constructing the views and images swirling around in his head.
Mabel took a sip of coffee from the cover of the flask, which also served as a cup. Neil took the cup and took a sip himself. They had gotten to the point of sharing their coffee. He liked it with milk and sugar. She liked it without. They had met halfway – with a dash of milk that barely turned the color lighter, and a spoon of sugar for the entire flask of coffee. Life was a compromise. Neil was getting used to it. So was Mabel.
“But no one”, Neil continued, “actually spoke about the inexorable push of human civilization that engulfs the planet as we know it. But, generation by generation, the change is happening, I feel somewhat certain. Take life ten generation ago. I cannot name folks ten generations back in my line, but I can guess how things were, a couple of centuries ago, just as the British, for example, and the French and the Dutch, were increasing their trading with eastern India, and how the repressive society of religious orthodoxy, social taboo and enlightenment were slowly permeating through the village life. I can imagine how a high caste Hindu or a Muslim would have multiple wives and how poverty drove people to do things he would not otherwise do. How a woman had to adjust to the lifestyle dominated by men at all levels. How surviving from day to day involved not only eating enough and not getting sick with cholera or typhoid, but also not getting bitten by a cobra or taken by a crocodile in the water or attacked by a tiger in the field.”
He paused for a moment, looking at Mabel. She watched him, wide eyed. “And then, I can guess how, even in their times, things would change, generation upon generation. How jungles will be cleared, wood would be sold, tigers would retreat further away. Extra housing and population would bring safety on one side and more sickness and infection on another. Life would be changing, generation by generation, even in their times. And if one was to look at it from afar, it would have been possible for them to use those changes they saw in a small scale, to project on the planet and on mankind, on a larger scale for future. Those that did contemplate these issues, and made predictions, right or wrong, where considered either mystics, or God men, or pundits, or mad men. But, change was happening then, and it is happening now. MY own dad made paintings and sketches of rural Bengal not five miles from his home. Today, that scene is no more there. It has retreated, just like the tigers of a few centuries back. Things are constantly retreating into the background, and getting smaller in the distance, till they become a point on the horizon. Finally a day comes when it is no more there. It has retreated into extinction. And this change is not for the better.”

Mabel had seen a handful of Neil’s dad’s paintings that Neil had mounted on his wall.
She thought of telling him how she loved those paintings. But somehow, that seemed not an appropriate thing to say. The scenes he drew were gone now, according to Neil.
“Some day, you have to take me to Bengal and show me where you grew up, and where your dad made those paintings.”

An Eagle in the heronry

He was fast asleep when the phone rang. It was not normal for Neil to be in bed till past 8 AM, even on a holiday. Besides, this was to be a bright and sunny day, according to the weather forecast online. It had been overcast and raining up to Saturday, and it would be raining against Monday onwards.
So, his plan was to make the most of it, by rising early, and heading out first to the heronry at the base of the route 17 as it headed out into the ocean for the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen. He often wondered who decided to name it, and spell it, that way. It was one of the more difficult names he had come across. It could easily have been spelled Tuasen or something.
Anyhow, the natural heronry at that location had come into prominence only recently. It was reported that a mass nesting site across the border at Point Roberts, USA, was the chosen site for many of the herons. But then an increasing number of bald eagles started nesting there too, with the aim of grabbing the large heron eggs as food for their own growing eagle chicks. Matters went so far as to prompt a group of herons to abandon that site and go look for another suitable one for mass nesting. And they found this spot at the edge of land merely twenty or so miles to the north, and just across the border in Canada.
And this season, the numbers had swelled to over 250 nests – about the largest nesting colony of great blue herons Neil had ever seen in his life.
It was there, that Neil had planned to visit early in the morning. But, his creator, meaning the writer of the story, Tonu, got up late. He went to sleep late the previous night. And so, as the writer got up late, by default Neil too, got up late. But in the case of Neil, he was woken up by a phone. The writer, Tonu, had to get up by himself without any external stimulant other than the light coming in through the large bedroom window.

Neil had fished for the telephone at the bed side table, while still have asleep.
“Hello”
“Hi, this is Mabel, morning.”
“Umm” Neil rubbed his eyes with his free hand. “Morning”. He squinted at his watch.
“Did I wake you up?” Mabel sounded surprised.
“Umm, yes, but thanks. What time is it ?” He was still squinting at the watch.
“Its ten past eight. You were to pick me up a half hour ago” Mabel laughed. “No harm done. Just wondered if the trip is still on.”
“Fuck .. Yes its still on, of course. Jesus, how did I sleep so late !” Neil was now fully awake. He got off the bed, found his slippers, and shuffled off to the toilet, still holding the chord-less phone to his ear.
“Give me another twenty minutes Mabel. My apology. I shall pick you up. Fuck” The last expletive was an uncharacteristic curse Neil had directed at himself. Normally, he would not be late, and even if he was, he would be relaxed about it since the change in schedule only involved him and no one else. But here, he had involved Mabel, and then failed to keep the time.
“Fuck” he cursed himself again.
“Relax, Neil. Its cool. Take your time, I shall have two mugs of coffee ready.”
“Great”, Neil was ready to gargle with the mouth wash, and brush his teeth. “What coffee?”
“Your favorite – Expresso instant”
“Okay, shall buzz you as I approach.. Mwaa, see ya”
That was then.

Meanwhile, the writer, Tonu, had done his own thing, including making his coffee. He had loaded two of his favorite cameras with two of his favorite lenses, and headed out by route 17 towards the Tsawwassen Ferry, the place with the impossible name, some twenty odd kilometer from his home in the south-west, and within a thousand feet from the US border.
On the southern end of Delta, to the west, the city had built two deep water terminals, to help the sparesely populated town to also benefit from economic activities of trade and transport without having to rely on nearby townships. But the ocean front on the pacific side as well as the bay on the south east were gently sloping and shallow soft mud deposited table of the continental shelf, not the best suited for development of ports.
To overcome this barrier, the city had built, on the pacific coast and just north of the US border, two long fingers of of road leading out into the ocean. Instead of building a bridge which may not survive major earth quakes in this quake prone area, the passage was built up with gravel and rock piled up from the sea bed. One of these two terminals were for cargo, and was called Delta Port. The other, further south and almost touching the border, was the passenger ferry terminal.
It was at the base of this road leading to the passenger terminal that the herons had selected for their mass resting. And it was there, that Tonu was headed.

Neil had put on a Canadian made wool-cotton blend button down insulated full sleeve shirt over a pair of jeans and his time trusted hiking boots. All this he did almost on the run.
Since he got involved with Mabel, he had taken to using mouth wash a lot, conscious that his mouth might smell odd to her, with his particular disorganized eating habits. Neil was effectively changing, and adjusting to accommodate another person inside his circle.
Mabel too had sort of dressed for the occasion, basically having a baseball cap on her head, and a blue-grey hiking jacket on, zipped at front and without a hood. She was wearing thick cotton jeans of brown color and had a pair of hiking shows. She even had a backpack on, and was holding two carry on mugs, presumably with the instant espresso coffee that she had promised to make.
She looked lovely, with the hair on her pony tail that stuck out of the back of her cap.
Neil waved at her and pulled the car over. She tossed the backpack in the back seat and got in, placing the two insulated mugs into the cup holders. Then she leaned over and kissed him briskly on his lips.
“You look lovely” Neil mentioned, meaning it. “And again, I am sorry I was late.”
Mabel placed her finger on his lips, silencing him.
Neil turned towards the highway, getting in the right lane for it, and took a sip of the coffee. “Aaah” .. It felt good as the caffein worked its way down his gullet.
“Want a snack?” Mabel fished out a wrap of paper from her jacket pocket and opened it, handing him a cookie.
Overhead, he could see a number of immature bald eagles chasing each other, and even a few adult ones. This was likely the season of the bald eagles to fight, to court, and to nest and raise chicks. The sky was often full of the shrill cry of bald eagles.
It felt good to be living in British Columbia, Neil thought.
“Its great, you know?” He said as he slowed to take an exit from the highway, on to route 17.
“Yeah… what is ?”
Neil nodded, tilting his head her way. “Everything. This bright blue sky. Me living in British columbia. Those eagles crying in the sun. You sitting next to me, and the radio weather and traffic channel talking about powdery snow falling on the mountains around us, while here down at the valley, the temperature is five, and the day looks so gorgeous.”
He slowed and turned right, into route 17, and looked around the agricultural field and dykes. There were blackbirds and sparrows in the low bushes. A ring necked pheasant browsed the grassland at the edge of the road ahead of them, and ran off as their car came closer.
In the air, a group of five long necked trumpeter swans flew north. He partly lowered the driven and passenger side windows and slowed the car slightly. Sure enough, the call fo the swans came through into the car. Mabel had noted the swans and were watching them, her face opening up in a wide smile.
Neil wished he was not moving, and that he had his camera in hand. But he was not complaining. He had the swans in his camera from other times. There were not many countries or regions in the world, where you could hear swans while driving.
“This is what Canada is, to me.”
Mabel smiled and nodded.
“And you, of course.”
Mabel nodded in mock seriousness. “Of course”.

A great blue heron at the Heronry

He pulled his car into the truck and trailer parking lot at the side of the road leading to the passenger ferry. Right ahead of them was the steep bank where the hill started.
At the base there was a cluster of tall black cottonwood trees, with dogwoods at their base and smaller shrubs leading up to some shallow fresh water ponds.

It was on the tall deciduous trees that the herons made their countless nests.
They stepped out of the car and onto the fresh air and sunlight. Behind them to the northwest, the highway 17 carried a few fast moving vehicles to the terminal. They could see beyond it the waters of the pacific, and Deltaport further away. There were ships alongside the jetty and cargo work was going on. Giant cranes perched over the ships.
In front of them, was the stretch of bushy lowland with a shallow fresh water marsh, where the frogs had started their cacophony – this being the first of the warm days of spring.

Across the denuded shrubs, stood the tall series of also denuded cottonwood trees, like tall sentinels. They could see behind the trees the land rise sharply to be the base of the hills. And in those denuded cottonwood trees, there were nests for herons. Countless numbers. The trees were chock full of herons that were jostling, crying out and pecking at each other, in a fierce struggle for maintaining their little patch of treetop real estate, while also busy either building nests, or attracting a partner to share the nest with.
Neil opened the trunk, took out the tripod with the swinging gimbal head for his camera, and set it on the ground, extending its legs to the fullest. He took out the long lens and proceeded to attach it to one of his cameras.
He kept one of his cameras, attached to a long black Sigma lens inside a grey canvas backpack designed for toting photographic material. He used it because it allowed him to store the camera body still attached to the long lens. He did not have to attach and detach the lens from the camera each time he used it. Besides, the backpack had many configurable pockets to store more lens, battery, flash and stuff.
Nest to the backpack, were two field guides, a binocular, and two books on sustainability.
Mabel leaned over and picked up one of the two books.
Neil adjusted the camera on the gimbal stand, balancing it  in the stand,  with the lens extended to full focal length. In that position, the heavy camera-lens combination would not tilt forward or back on its own weight in the gimbal cradle, even if he did not tighten the holding screws. That way, it could be freely swung side to side as well as up and down without having to fight against the force of gravity.
“Whats this ?” Mabel asked, flipping through the blue paperback book.
Neil glanced sideways. “Ahh, I have not fully read it yet. Its title says what the book is about.”
Mabel read through the title softly – “Beyond growth”. She turned it to read the back cover.
Neil lifted the Gimbal head so that the viewfinder of the camera was at his eye level, and he did not have to crouch to look through it.
Before he could train the camera at the herons, a soft chirping sound nearby drew his attention.
On a shrub a few yards from Neil, a solitary robin chirped advertising itself. Neil turned the camera on the bird, and pressed the video record button. The camera could take stills and high definition video. On the screen, he could see the birds throat swell, its beak opened and oscillate, every time it chirped. The sound of the chirp came clearly through to him. He was conscious that the built in microphone was prone to pick up wind noises and amplify them. Ideally, he should be able to use an external and directional mike that would pick up the sound without the wind. But, this was primarily a high end still camera that could also take some video.
The bird kept chirping for a minute.
Neil kept filming.
Mabel, seeing the bird, closed the book and watched silently.
To their north and west, one of the ships at Deltaport sounded its air horn – that penetrated the air above the blue ocean waters, and came to the bird and to Neil. The bird stopped in mid call, and flew off.
Neil stopped the recording.
Mabel stepped closer, watching the heronry, but still clutching the book, by Herman E. Daly.
Neil wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her slightly closer in a sign of affection, before releasing her.
He left the tripod mounted camera and returned to the opn trunk of his car, fishing out his second camera.
Mabel watched the herons. “There are so many of them”
Neil nodded. “I think they have not hatched their eggs yet, or if they have, the babies have already grown. I do not see a tiny one anywhere.”
“Why do you think they have not hatched yet ?”
“Well, I am not sure when exactly they hatch. But you can see, many of these birds are coming down to those bushes by the marsh at the base of the trees, picking up twigs and sticks, and flying up to their nests to use the twigs as lining. They appear to be still engaged in nest building.”
“Yes. I can see that” Mabel nodded, turning towards the trunk of the car. “Can I use the binocular ?”
“Of course. You don’t need to ask.”
Back at the mound where Neil had placed his first camera, Mabel watched the nests, and the birds, through the binocular.
Neil attached another long zoom lens from Sony on his second camera and slung it over his neck, closing the trunk of the car.
Mabel lowered the binocular and pointed with her left hand – “There, looks like eagles are around too.”
Neil had noticed them. “Yes, there is a relationship in these areas, between heronry and eagle nests.”
He lifted the handheld camera to his eyes and looked at the tree tops, and then to the single mature bald eagle — and followed its path till he spotted the second eagle.
“There – the eagle nest. There is an eagle on it already. I think it is hatching an egg, the way she is sitting there.”
Mabel looked up, and shifted slightly to get a better look.
The robin came back and perched itself at the top of the brush again. It watched them briefly before starting its advertising calls again.
To the east, the puff of cloud had cleared, and the horizontal rays of the sun struck the heronry from the side, creating a contrast to the hitherto subdued scene.
The second eagle, sitting on a lone branch close to its nest, lifted its head skyward, opened its yellow beak, and let out a series of shrill calls, its white head lighted by the sun and in high contrast against the darker gray and greed shades of the trees in the shadow behind it.
It was going to be a fine day – Neil thought.

A road for Mr. Elgin

I remember there was an Elgin Road in Calcutta of the old. Perhaps it is still there, in Kolkata of today. But they keep changing names of often. So I don’t know.
But, finding that book on Lord Elgin, the person behind the name of that road from my younger years in Bengal, was curious. And that too, while looking for some old history of Canada.Anglo Indian Attitude - the book.
And then to find out that he had had a lot of influence in three countries that I am reasonably well linked with today – Canada, China and India, was equally interesting. He was from such an era that I have no good grasp of. This was the time frame when India was ruled by a corporation – The East India Company. One of the books from that era claimed that a land of 300 million people were governed by just 1,000 civil servants.

It also claimed that the Indian population was fully one sixth of the world population at the time. That book, about the Indian Civil Service, or ICS in short, claimed that this statistics of a thousand civil servants administering a population of three hundred million made that body, the ICS, the most powerful civil service body in the entire world. But, that was a different book, named the Anglo-Indian Attitudes by Clive Dewey. And I am digressing a bit.

It all actually started with Ms Leena Chatterjee, who is a family friend and a neighbor and who I address as Leena di (Meaning Leena the elder sister, or a person deserving the respect of an elder).
Leena di and  her husband Tan Lee da had been a source of inspiration as well as a link with our collective eastern heritage.
Tan Lee da is an unique amalgam. His father, a famed Chinese scholar was befriended by Tagore and invited to Santiniketan, Bengal, in the 1920s, when India was still ruled by the British Government, And no more the East india Company. As a result of his father coming to stay in Bengal, India, Tan Lee grew up in Santiniketan and became a Tagorian at heart and at the same time a first batch IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) passed out civil engineer and architect by profession. His internationalism was perhaps completed by him working in India at first and then onto north and south America, before setting down in Delta, British Columbia. To cap it all off, he is a better Bengali than me in about all aspects except in appearance.
Leena di was the quintessential scholar that was only part Santiniektani, and part many other things that broke the mold. For one thing, she was a believer of Gandhi, Tagore and Karl Marx at the same time. I found that combination a near impossible mix, but then Leena di could separate what Marx thought and believed, from what people made out of his thoughts, and the same for Gandhi and Tagore. That was quite a feat. I did not study Marx much. To me, the similarity between Mark and Tagore was restricted in their beard. In fact I used to think Tagore’s beard to be more similar to Tolstoy’s for example. The similarity between Gandhi and Marx was harder to discern. Both wanted social change – which could be considered a similarity. The effort to bring that social change also became specific political paths for different nations. Those paths, incidentally, were diametrically opposite for India and Russia. One preached reaching its objective through non-violence or ahimsa, while the other called for armed revolt and a blood bath.
Leena di is also half Rajput and half Christian from her mothers side, and among the most educated person I knew. To me, educated meant something more than a piece of certificate paper.  Those who want proof that women might be better scholars than men, look no further than Leena di.
And to cap it all off, she had read the Vedas in their original sanskrit, and had also studied the Indian constitution, and knew a lot about constitutions in general.
So how is it that I write a blog named after Elgin, while speaking about Leena di?

It all had to do with the Imperial Gazetteer of India. Or rather, some of the volumes that were published by the British with that name, a long time ago.

The British had these great books published during their rule of India. But, before these could be published, material has to be gathered, which essentially helped describe India in as many ways as could be measured. These books were perhaps the bible for the future generations officers of the Indian Civil Service – ICS – that came to serve the Raj. Initially they would all be British, and products of the best schools of Great Britain. They were appointed under section 32 of the Government of India act of 1958 of the parliament of the United Kingdom.

 Initially, all thousand of them were British. Then, Indians started getting into it by passing the test. The first Indian to become an ICS officer was Satyendranath Tagore, Rabindranath’s elder brother. By the time of independence about half of the ICS officers were Indian. The other half, British, mostly left and returned to Great Britain when India became an independent nation.

Satyendranath Tagore - the first Indian born ICS officer.

Being stickler for detail and record keeping, they produced a number of volumes about India that was better than anything contemporary India had up to that point. In some ways, they are still the best work on the subjects covered, till date.
And Leena di had studied them in the past, and was looking for them in the present. And she had asked me to find them for her. She was also looking for census records of southern parts of India from late 1850s onward, in a hope of finding some details about her maternal ancestry, who were Rajputs that traveled south and settled around Kerala, became rich and powerful but retained their ethnic distinction by not intermarrying with the locals. Leena di wished to peer into those details, if possible, through British census and gazetteers.
I had located a few of the later publications under the name of Imperial Gazetteer of India volumes on line for her. There was a lit of altogether 26 of them in a series. The first one, Volume 1, was titled ‘The Indian Empire – Descriptive’ and was published in 1901. The last one, Volume 26, was name ‘Atlas’, published 1931.
These could be read on line. The first volume started with the following text:

“THE INDIAN EMPIRE
VOLUME I
DESCRIPTIVE
CHAPTER I
PHYSICAL ASPECTS

No one who travels through the length and breadth of the continent of India can fail to be struck with the extraordinary variety of its physical aspects.”
The term the British used at the time, was continent, and not subcontinent.

Anyhow, some of these versions were available to be read online only, and not downloadable. Leena di was not the most proficient in browsing the internet. Besides, Leena di was also interested in earlier publications.
And thus, out of interest, I located another source of them, through eBooks. One of them, The Imperial Gazetteer of India, by Sir William Wilson Hunter, 1840 – 1900, volume IV.
This over 500 page book was scanned from the original and put up as iPad readable eBook, costing 5 dollars.

And I bought it for my own iPad and read through it a bit before informing Leena di. And then I located some more books. One of them – The Tribes and Castes of Bengal. Ethnographic glossary, by Herbert Hope Riseley, was known to Leena di and she got quite excited that I found this book too, again for only 5 dollars.
These books were scanned and turned into iPad readable books. The quality of scans were very high, and included hand written notes, rubber stamps, and even signatures.
It was from a short text in that book that I wrote a piece on the ongoing novel, about the Lepcha tribes of northern Bengal and Sikkim.

Anyhow, I had by then downloaded free sample sections of over twenty books from the British Museum Library. If I wanted to buy the full version, each would cost me 5 bucks. All these books had been scanned and put up on line just in the last few months, so they were practically as virtual books on line.

And then, I searched for information of the formative years of British colonization of Canada, and found two. I bought both. One was titled ‘Canada under British Rule 1760 – 1900’ by John G. Burinot. And the other, was on Lord Elgin.

Now, that rung a bell. I did not know too much about the British Colonials of the late 18th century, but I knew Elgin was one of them.
I remembered that old Calcutta had a road in his name – Elgin Road.
And where was this road ? Well it was on the way to the Maidan or the New Market of those days. It was in the region just to the south of Theatre Road, west of the Chowrangee Road, and north of the the Circus Road. But these days, the Governments had been busy confusing the heck out of folks like us, renaming and re-renamign roads after dead people. Now we have Shakespeare Sarani, Picasso Bithi, Mujibur Rahman Sarani, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Lord Sinha Road, Gorky Terrace, Albert Road, Laudon Street, Sarojini Naidu Sarani, U.N. Brahmachari Street, Madam Courie road, which is a dead end and many more. I often thought the American system was best, all roads horizontal are streets and numbered progressively, while all roads vertical could be avenues and also numbered sequentially. Thus, one could easily guess where any street crossing is located.
Reading up on parts of that book, I learned that Lord Elgin was a highly influential administrator for Canada, and had later been sent to China and India at important historical junctures, and was partially responsible for the history as it turned out, in great historical events in those regions.
For example, I learned that Lord Elgin, upon request received from India regarding difficulties the British were facing in relation to the fomenting discontent that would eventually spill over as the Sepoy mutiny, was instrumental in diverting many British military personnel and equipment that were going elsewhere, and sent them to India at a most critical juncture.
Likewise, Elgin, upon landing in China, helped in the final deals made there at the aftermath of the opium wars, that essentially ensured that the days of the Chinese rulers were over, and her days of subservience to Europe started.
In those aspects, his work turned out to be in support of colonization of Asia by his Britain in particular, in the case of India, and Europe in general, in the case of China.
His work in Canada, however, seemed to be of a different kind, ensuring that Canada would be an equal partner in the group of nations that believed in the same king of England, but otherwise ruled themselves. This, of course, only related to European immigrants of Canada, and not the original inhabitants of the land.

I had not read the book through. And there surely would be more books on the topic. I was no historian. But, reading what I did thus far, it appeared that he, being a product of his time – was probably racial in his thinking and could not consider non-Europeans as equal, or deserving of fair Governance.
I decided to read up some more about those tumultuous days, when the British empire, even after losing the war of independence against USA almost a century earlier, was still in its expanding mode, and the loss of the continental USA was to be made up by huge gains elsewhere.

So, if the local Governments of West Bengal, decided to change the names again, and if Elgin Road no more existed, I decided I should not feel too sorry. New happenings pile up on top of old ones, and eventually, take new flavor and shape. To know it all, one would need to pry away layers of it and peer deeper to find out how things used to be. That, in a nutshell, could be the essence of history. The road might have had another name even before Elgin. What was it, and how did it get that name, before it was changed to Elgin road?

I might talk about all this with Leena di some day !

How green was my Facebook

I read the book ‘How green was my valley’ three times. The first time, I was in school in Santiniketan. I was mesmerized by the warm hearted and bittersweet story about a Welsh coal mining village of the 1930s by Richard Llewellyn. I was not as familiar with English then. I did my schooling in my mother tongue. And yet, I liked that book a lot because it had made me think. I remember talking about it with my elder sister, who had not read it at the time. After I spoke about it, she too read it. I remember that I was impressed by the Welsh names in that book.

How green was my valley – the movie

I remember how the main character of the book, Huw, would go to his sister in law Bronwen for advise. He loved the gentle character of Bronwen. I used to play around with that name, rolling it in my tongue and imagining how the Welsh  pronounced that name, so it would sound feminine instead of masculine. She vaguely even reminded me of the relationship between Rabindranath Tagore, and his sister-in-law Kadambari devi. I was just catching up those days, about the early years of Rabi, in JoraSanko, and often drew parallels between sets of information that floated my way. So, I tried drawing a comparison, however absurd it might seem, between Bronwen of the novel, from a welsh coal mining village, and the real life character of Kadambari Devi of Jorasanko, Kolkata, before she committed suicide.

How green was my valley – the book

Apart from the Welsh names, I got a glimpse of the now vanished life and times in a coal mining village in the western hemisphere. As I grew up, I came to associate that atmosphere in rotation with other regions of the world. It related to the mining towns in Soviet Russia and then to China and on to Africa, particularly southern Africa. And, in the name of progress, a version of it has come to India, with typical Indian versions of the political, social and ecological nastiness.
But, do we have a writer of the same caliber as Richard Llewelyn – someone that can write a book that can be the ‘How green was my valley’ equivalent in India?

I remember reading ‘Gone with the wind’ in school, with its social upheaval relating to a civil war and end of slavery in the US, and immediately connecting it with “Saheb Bibi Golam’ of the vanishing days of Zamindary in eastern India, on the last decade of the 19th century. The Indian story lacked the civil war and the social upheaval. The transition did not perhaps affect the common man too much. But the lazy and oppulent, wasteful life of the fading Zamindars reminded me somehow, with the fast vanishing life of the vain and pompous Southern Plantation owners of the American south. In India, the old lifestyle of people being born into wealth because they agreed to tax the residents for the benefit of the Raja, the Nawab or the British, were soon to disappear. They were to be replaced by a new breed to people that got license to do business by greasing the right palms. Ultimately, the coin was replacing the sword. But then, the coin had always employed the sword.

Saheb Bibi Golam – by Bimal Mitra

But – I did not find a book comparable to ‘How green was my valley’ with regard to the life and times of miners in India and their families, and expanding that, the general degradation of the land that such mining invariably involved. Even Llewellyn’s book did not touch that issue. Ecological degradation of the landscape was not in people’s radar in the 1930s. It should have been. Had they been conscious about it then, we might not be in the state we are in now. But, I am digressing.

My time in Facebook is going to taper down. The first thing that came to mind while writing about it – was How green was my Facebook. Somehow, I subconsciously connected  my departure from Facebook with the main character’s departure from his mining village in that book I read first in my childhood days. And just like the valley, Facebook turned out to be full of fond memories as well as wasteful and sad. That similarity resulted in me rambling for a few pages about that book, about Welsh names, and about mining. And now, I have finally arrived at the root – Facebook and the fact that I need to move on.
Facebook had been a wonderful place when I first got used to it. It was novel, it was like a virtual Kalor Dokan, or a virtual tea stall. Folks from different parts of the world would sit down and yap a little, exchange views and even show off a bit. Every one has a laugh, and then we go home to deal with real life.
And what is real life ?

I have pondered that question, but have not found a reasonable definition. Some would think my real life should be the time spent in the working hours of weekdays, when I am an engineer working for my employer. But I don’t think of that as my real life at all.
Some might consider the time they spend at home with their family as real life. I am tempted to agree with them, but am not sure.
To some, real life is the weekends when they can go and do things that they really love to – such as skiing, or watching soccer, or playing badminton, or, for me, wandering about the foothills of mountains nearby, just watching the scenery, or focusing on birds and clicking their pictures. I just realized I take approximately five hundred times more pictures of landscapes, birds and animals, than I do of humans. This has been the case ever since I got my first good camera, thirty years ago.

So, what is real life? Is it about humans, or birds, or mountains and rivers, or what ?
Whatever it is – it is not Facebook. But, for a long time, it provided an interesting parallel. Man is after all, a social animal Thats what sets us apart. We socialize, we communicate, we exchange views – because we are human.

It was nice to get back in touch with long lost acquaintances. Those were the heady days. At the back of my mind, there was also the wish that we needed to do something with our spare time that related to some form of community work – to give back to the system from which we have taken so much. This ‘system’ could be the school we studied in, the region or the people that we develop an attachment for, or the neighborhood where we live, the wider world, the nature, wildlife – whatever we feel obligated to for making us what we are. Its a token of appreciation and an effort to see that the ‘system’ will survive and thrive after we ourselves are gone. Humans developed not only communication skills, but also the notion of altruism. No?

It came from the general and fundamental understanding that systems need support, and the best support is one that comes from bottom up, rather than top down from the Government or politicians. It may be a wrong perception – but that was my perception and it stayed with me over the years.

Anyhow, Facebook, along with bulletin boards, blogs and such, became also an avenue to see if we could do something to support the vision of Tagore. Subconsciously, FB became a vehicle of sorts. But that was then, and I was more hopeful than wise.
It also became a vehicle of creative outlet. I doubt I would have penned as many cranky verses, “ছড়া”, as I eventually wrote, had it not been for Facebook. But, that was then, too.
Somewhere down the line, Facebook became just a thing one gets used to, and perhaps a bit hooked too as well – like a cup of coffee in the morning. It gets addictive.
We made many good friends through FB. But, along with that, we also accumulated junk. We saw more junk, we processed more junk, and we created more junk. By junk, I mean instantaneous flash in the pan that lasts a day, two days, or a week, but after that becomes part of the rising tide of background noise. This background tide of noise can, eventually, become deafening. I needed to get away, and look at it from another perspective. I needed to turn the volume down. I needed social ear plugs.

I had too many acquaintances on Facebook – way more than my brain or my time could reasonably deal with on a personal one to one level. So the question came, do I need the notion of having so many friends that I shall perhaps never exchange anything personal with? Do I need five or six people to like what I write so much, that I must advertise my thoughts and deeds to hundreds of people?
Our past is a great thing to remember. But there is one thing about the past – it is in the past. Not all things from the past will survive. I shall always have close and dear ones from the past – but, I should not need five hundred silent friends on Facebook just to keep in touch with a half dozen. There surely should be a better way.

Facebook is less green today. It is turning brown at the edges. Its details are beginning to fade. Also, as I get older, I find this platform more for the youngsters that have the time in their hand, and the interest in small items of their daily life. For them, it is perhaps the essence of catching up with the community. For me, it increasingly looks like a barrage of trivia that I do not want to know.

But, I cannot leave Facebook completely, just like Richard Llewellyn the writer could not quite leave his Welsh homeland, even as the main character prepared to leave that land for good.
Facebook, like the google forum on Santiniketan, like the “Santiniketaner Khata” blog I used to run, or the Uttarayan bulletin board, just like the podcast – they will remain fond memories and we shall retain contact with it, albeit from a distance. Distance is not bad per se. It shows us perspective. Distance is three dimensional.

I am not leaving it completely also because there are folks on this platform that I value, and who I would like to continue interacting with in future.

Somnath Mukherjee – for his sheer dedication and selflessness in community service towards the downtrodden Indians, and for being such an inspirational person.
Madhusree Mukherjee – for reminding me that taking up science as a profession should not make one uncaring about civic society and ecology.
Felix Padel – for reminding me that even trained economists can be caring ecologists.
Tathagata Sengupta – for being a smaller version of Somnath and growing up to equal him.

Edward Lee Durgan – for joining up with us for “Free Binayak Sen” March, after listening to me just for a half hour about Sen, and for his world view and firm commitment to principles that are so rare to find these days.

Ashley Zarbatany of Social Justice Group of the University of British Columbia – the second person that joined up on the Free Binayak Sen March in Vancvouer, who took the mike and spoke to the crowd. Although I have not had much interaction with her, I have watched her involvement with more issues of social justice. Folks like her help keep my faith in humanity alive.

Susan Bibbs of downtown Vancouver. She showed me what it meant to be a bleeding heart liberal of British Columbia – ha ha.

Ashie Hirji, the Ismaili rebel that read the Veda and practiced yoga, the entrepreneur, feminist, social reformer, secular and whacky, of downtown Vancouver of the past  and of Europe of present – for just being herself.

Subin Das – because I was once with him in college, because he know and spent time with my father when I was half a world away, and because of his perception of the world.

Pradip Malhotra – as the only person I know and spoke with on phone while he spent months on the Antarctic, not to mention being a great guy.

Lokendranath Roychowdhury – for being so intelligent, articulate and observant.
Chira, Barsan, Sujoy, Sandeep and others who, like Madhusree, live in the west, are from cutting edge Science and yet do such a wonderful job of maintaining social awareness, and compassion for the world. You may not know it, but you all have influenced my views on the balance between technological progression and regression, and the balancing acts between new versus old and good versus bad. I hope to find some of you in google + too.

Bhaiya, Kukul, Tukul, Moni and so many others – for being my relatives and friends – who I shared my past with, and hope to share part of my future with too.
Tapas da, Tukul, Piyali – the trio that, along with me, formed at one time the quadrangle of Santiniketan ex-students that existed on conference calls, on Facebook, on Uttarayan, and physically in Santiniketan as well as even here in Canada when some of them would come to visit. I shall always remember the great time we had, speaking with each other and rattling off. I even have recordings of most of it.

Then there are my many friends from Santiniketan – that I share a great memory with.
Ravi Dwivedi – because of the size of the lens on his avatar – ha ha.

And then there is Debal Deb, one of the few that stand tall in my view for wanting to buck the trend of globalized and corporatist food industry where indigenous strains of food are to be destroyed and replaced by genetically modified and patented food that will feed those that can afford to pay, and same time enrich the patent holder, and where the hungry will no more have the choice in selecting what kind of food he likes to eat. He, Vandana Shiva and others like them that defy the corporate Goliath and their cohorts in the Governments and decide to preserve indigenous seeds when no one else will – so a small slice of our biodiversity may still survive the onslaught of “economic progress”. But, he is moving out of Facebook and on to google+. So he did not really deserve a mention here. But then, I am a human and not a computer. I make mistakes.

All my local friends from Greater Vancouver area.
And many many others that I came across.
My thanks to you all .. You will see me here, but not that often.

I shall be more present in google+ as a social network site. Its easier for me to find folks and events that I like to keep track of. But even there, my presence may not be high. Any of you that have a gmail account can find me there. I am not even sure if it requires a gmail address. Anyhow, mine is tony.mitra@gmail.com

Other than that, any important message that is just for me – pls send an email. I tend to ignore mass emails since there are so many that come my way. An interesting statistics of the quality of our communication against quantity – out of 100 emails in my inbox, usually there are only two that are directly addressed to me by someone I know. The rest – are just floating debris.

Those that have an interest in catching up on my random thoughts and musings and creative writings, – well, there used to be bulletin boards, multiple blogs as well as podcasts, each carrying volumes of stuff written and talked over the past so many years. But I am winding them all down.

I shall only concentrate on one site, and write only what pleases me, irrespective of if it pleases readers. I do not aim to make money out of it and so I do not need to follow convention and formula. You can find that in www.tonu.org.

And so, here I am, starting with how I first read the book ‘How green was my valley’ and ending here, on a blog, writing how green my Facebook was.

Be good, everyone.

It was nice.

At the waters edge

Saturday and Sunday were bright and sunny, and glorious in the color spectrum of the landscape around my home in Delta, British Columbia, about ten miles north of the US border.
Coming from India, I do not recollect being overly concerned about the presence of absence of clouds in the sky. Nature had been spectacular throughout the year and in all seasons. But that was then. I remember asking permission from my mother, as a young kid, to take a shower in the shower – meaning, go out bare bodied and bare feet out into the field behind our home, wearing only a pair of shorts, in the middle of a rain shower, and get thoroughly drenched. This allowed me to roll in the grass and generally have a great time while rain splattered on my face. I am not sure if it washed all the dirt off, since I was maintaining a sort of balance – letting the rain wash old dirt off, while accumulating new dirt by rolling on the grass.
I even remember stray dogs coming up and joining the fun with me – howling into the rain and rolling around, all in good fun.
But that was then. Today, the area were I grew up has no open field behind – it is chock full of cramped houses with serpentine narrow lanes, plastic and garbage collected at every corner. The area has a bleak apeparance, and has gotten dangerous because of petty crime, which I have no doubt, will mature into more serious crime down the line.
The grass, the sky, and the roll in the rain – is a distant memory.
But here, in British Columbia, the temperature is usually a lot lower than in India of my childhood. If I went out to bathe in the rain when the water is at 4 degree Celsius, I am likely to shiver and catch pneumonia. Besides, I am no more an 8 year old kid, not yet spoiled by the act of growing up and getting civilized.
Here in British Columbia, weather is a big thing. It rains a lot and the sky is often overcast. A cloudy day is warmer, in winter, but the gloomy appearance and the rain in the urban areas appear depressing, mainly because it is no fun going out in the rain when it is also cold and damp.
Clear sunny days are spectacularly bright, and also a lot colder. Temperature often drops many degrees when the sky clears up. This is a proof that moisture or water vapor is a greenhouse gas too. While the total amount of water remains the same with climate change, less ice and more liquid water on the oceans, and higher temperatures usually means more evaporation, more clouds and more green-house effect.
But, meanwhile, I spent the weekend roaming the country side around my home, carrying a heavy camera/lens/tripod over my shoulders, wearing a sort of hiking boot that was also thermally insulated, and wearing a parka and a pair of woolen gloves.
I walked and I walked. I stood still at some places, with the tripod on the ground, for long stretches, watching and counting birds at times, and looking for some bird that is rare in these areas. I have stamped my foot and watched as the tide runs out of the shallow ocean front at Boundary Bay, overlooking the coast of Washington state in USA.
And then I have walked through marshes, reed beds, sandy or pebbled land, through bushes and over dust patches and mud banks, just soaking in the atmosphere and marveling at the fantastic variations of nature.

Here I stopped for a moment, watching the near sights of trees. They sported different shades of color as spring came upon us. The northern snow tolerant trees that have needle shaped leaves, that do not shed all their leaves at the same time in the winter, and can be called evergreen, stand up as green outlines.
The tall leafy trees that went bare in winter, are showing signs of small buds sprouting all over their high branches. Some of these would be new leaves, and some would be flowers.
And then there are the low bushes, still bare of leaves. They show up as reddish brown. They are still waiting for a trigger. It would be a while before they too become leafy and green.
But beyond the tree line, there were the mountains. Vancouver and surround area are on a river estuary, which is land created by silt deposits of a large river. It is therefore flat and almost at the sea level. But the river itself broke out of a long and wide range of mountains. As a result, all around us, there are mountains and more mountains. Some would shed their snow completely in the summer, while some would retain a snow cap throughout summer.

I might have walked twenty or thirty miles in these two days, carrying heavy camera and most of the time by myself. Sometimes a guy or a small group would join up and we would cover a track together. But mostly, it was my own interaction, with the planet as I see it.
Yes, my aging body aches after two days of walking about morning to evening. Yes I would feel hungry at the end of the day since I had not stopped to find lunch at noon. Yes, my legs would feel tired. And yes, I would have deep sleeps at night when I hit the bed.
But, this was my way of interacting with the rest of the world.
I did not really feel lonely at all.
Given a choice, I wouldn’t have it any other way.