Uttarakhand–Abandoning Environments, Creating Unsustainable Livelihoods

It pains me a lot to read about the disasters that have plagued Uttarakhand, the Kedarnath disaster and now, these forest fires that have ranged far too long. As children, we grew up hearing about Chandi Prasad Bhatt, the Founder of the Chipko Movement and his colleague, Sunderlal Bahuguna. Listen to Ramachandra Guha talk about one of the great Indians, Chandi Prasad Bhatt.

“People must understand the environment and keep it in mind while planning development.”–Chandi Prasad Bhatt

Chandi Prasad Bhatt
Chandi Prasad Bhatt

Listen to an interaction with Shri Chandi Prasad Bhatt on ‘Himalaya Environment and Development: Experiences of the ‘Chipko’ Movement’ at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru.

You could watch another discussion with this great environmentalist at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library YouTube channel.

Ramachandra Guha has done his bit to spread awareness about this great Gandhian, who worked at the grassroots and was never seen at any high profile event ever. Chandi Prasad Bhatt always believed in doing his work and didn’t believe in publicizing it. He was born on June 23, 1934. As a child, he learned to take off his shoes as he walked through the bugiyal, the alpine pastures. It was forbidden to spit in the pasture, or to urinate or pollute it in any way. Also, the people were forbidden from even plucking sacred flowers in the week of Nandasthmi.

Another important environmentalist that Ramachandra Guha has talked about is Shekhar Pathak. Dr. Shekhar Pathak is an important historian of the Himalayas and of the Uttarakhand region. He is the Founder of People’s Association for Himalaya Area Research (PAHAR), which he founded in 1983. Listen to him at the Mussourie Writers’ Festival. I find this very useful.

Shekhar Pathak
Shekhar Pathak

Ramachandra Guha’s pieces on both these environmentalists are fine pieces of biographical writing.

Shekhar Pathak has also taken a 1100 kilometre trek every decade across the Himalayas to document the changes in the region. This is the Askot-Aarakot Abhiyan, a trip from Askot to Aarakot, where a few friends get together and travel this distance without anything with themselves. They try to map the entire terrain in various ways. You can watch a short presentation of this unique trek here. And there is a long, detailed presentation of the Askot-Aarakot trek at the India International Centre, New Delhi.

I think the voices of the great Chandi Prasad Bhatt, and the historian and ‘encyclopedia man of the Himalayas’ Shekhar Pathak (as Ramachandra Guha calls him) should be heard more carefully. I’m sure it would help the local governments deal with the issues plaguing this beautiful, heavenly state much better.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) on Leadership

I had always heard of William Shakespeare, who hasn’t? His death anniversary, 23 April, was two days ago. In MA, we studied King Lear and I had read Othello earlier. You can watch a short dramatization of King Lear.

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

There would be a number of posts on Shakespeare. This is a short post that will point to his great and in-depth study of the human character.

I had the occasion to teach Macbeth for a couple of years. You can watch this wonderful and finely produced BBC production. I’m sure you would enjoy it as much as I did.

Macbeth is a fine example of how unbridled greed and ambition can dehumanize a person completely. Empathy, as a human emotion, doesn’t exist in the play. In Act II, Scene II, of the play, after Macbeth has killed King Duncan, he is shaken and nervous. The reply that Lady Macbeth gives her husband is classic:

Who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy thane,
You do unbend your noble strength, to think
So brainsickly of things. Go get some water,
And wash this filthy witness from your hand.
Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
They must lie there: go carry them; and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood.

She is not just cold-blooded but ambition has made her so.

Look at what another human trait can do. In Othello, human jealousy is such a dominant idea that it leads to murder. And then, the downfall. Othello is not the king but he is a nobleman and holds a leadership position. So, interestingly, while Shakespeare is focussing on jealousy as well as insecurity as an important human frailty, he is making another pertinent point. He is clearly stating that leaders or those in leadership positions should not be jealous or insecure.

Shakespeare also imparts leadership skills to those who read him. Hamlet is a fine example of how an indecisive leader can lead to ruin. He reminds us that a leader must always take decisions, even if hard ones. The lines from this play are again too famous, like an aphorism:

To be, or not to be- that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them.

In fact, if we look at King Lear, the frailty is credulity, blind belief in his two daughters that brings him down very badly. However, what is even more instructive about King Lear is that it is also a leadership lesson: leaders should not trust blindly their kin and the ones lower than them.

This was my short tribute to William Shakespeare. I’ll come back to him later in future posts.