The ‘See-Through’ World

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The homo sapient is at the centre of the ecology’

For the longest period of time growing up, I was shielded by the curtain of privilege which allowed me to see only the ‘see-through’ version. The version where consumerism is celebrated, where a new shiny toy, a new car, a new house, a new bag, the attachment of the word ‘new’ to materialism is the ultimate purpose. A version of the world where the highlights were way too colored for me to see what was hidden behind the limelight, the impact of the metaphoric happiness that I was and am a part of, the versions which I have the privilege to ignore.

But as I move through this particular version, I am aware of the harm we humans are doing to nature. How? By the way my heart wrenches when I see the photo of the animal stuck underwater with a plastic scrumming through its body, by the way I get angry when I see too many cars on the road and cannot breathe through the air, when I see the person walking in front of me throwing that wrapper on the road itself, with the dustbin at an arm’s reach. And I think to myself, at least I am better? I refuse to use straws at restaurants, I refuse the consumer slips at the end of certain plastic transactions and I avoid using/taking plastic bags to carry my stuff from the shops to my home. The satisfaction, that I am taking that one step needed to shift the balance of a sapient from the centre, to the circle itself.

But my actions were challenged by my own self on a recent trip that I went to Manali for. I will be shifting jobs in the upcoming week and I thought of giving myself a break from the city heat and stress and be amongst nature for some time. Old Manali to be specific. I booked my hostel on an online app and moved out of the city on an AC bus, the comfortable chair, the introduction to cool air even before a tree in sight. As we started our travel, I saw how passengers started asking for the plastic bottle of water entitled to each traveler on the bus. Many had their own bottle of water but accepted the branded bottled water anyway. Abundance and scarcity were moving hand in hand on this one trip!

The road to Manali is beautiful. The sunlight filtering through the mountains as the bus twirls in its way, creating a snail’s trail behind. The shades of green in a number more than the filters on the photograph apps that I have been using and the blue of the flowing rivers, bluer than the sky back in Delhi.
But It was when the bus started encircling the curved pathway up through the mountains that I saw it. Machines. Big ones, yellow ones, blue ones, in the water, on the land, over the mountain, on the roadside, near the bridge, inside the tunnel, breaking stone, turning rivers, building blocks, tearing down houses. They were everywhere. Machines being manned by humans to create a better version of that place for other humans.

Throughout the journey, I saw multiple machines at a distance of not more than 500 meters. Each emitting its own noise, sending out warning vibrations as our bus waited in the traffic line of hundreds of cars going towards Manali at the same time. The rocks from the mountain were being broken down for a larger, wider road in some places, whereas in some places the rocks were being taken out from the river bed, to build a protection wall on the sides of the river so that the water doesn’t come out through them and harm humans. Really? We are taking out the rocks from the riverbed, which disrupts the flow of the water itself, making the natural course of it change.

I was feeling an emotion of guilt, infused with anger at my own inability to stop it then and there, to talk about it, to move away from the ‘see-through’ version. But I didn’t. I sat. I travelled. I listened to songs to douse my inability. I watched.

At Manali, my hostel was away from the actual market. A kilometer trek up a small hillside. It was clean air there, a river flowed nearby, scenic view of a meadow right out of the window, and the sound of silence, of air brushing through my face, numbing the fingertips with a mild chill. I forgot about the travel. But I wasn’t meant to. As I freshened up and moved towards the market, the puff of smoke from tens and tens of car in a small cramped up space like Manali, made me rethink my decision of coming there. The cars were lined up the entire road from New Manali to the old, people throwing plastic into the rivers as they take the chance to dip their feet in it while drinking tea at some cafe, with noise of the horns louder than the birds in the air and with only tourists in sight, no locals.

It got me into thinking as to what are we creating as a community? As much as we say that this form of travel brings economy to the locals as more people come and indulge in their services, but most of the cafes, the hostels, the bakeries, the activity pad, they were spaces started by people who wanted to ‘slow down’ from their busy city life and hence, ventured into the particular business to create ‘Home, away from home!’. When I sat with some locals near my hostel during the evening, they talked about how they have to modernize their actions, their activity to deem fit to the tourists who come to the village since they demand those things and if the locals are not able to deliver, the tourists turn to someone else.

I have been using the word ‘we’ carefully in the paragraphs above. It is not about one entity, or one Manali, it’s about the entire ecosystem of travel and beyond.

The trip brought me to question the growth of industries into local communities, the impact of the road building by breaking mountains or disturbing the flow of natural rivers, the idea of a weekend getaway. How do we balance the ecology with the system of economics, the upward growth scale of numbers? Or should there be any?
Do I understand sustainability in its true sense, not for one, but for an entire community?
How do I not fall into the pit of consumerism and celebrate materialism, but move more towards humanism or learn how to balance them?
How do I take more actions to shift my steps from the centre of the ecological circle, to the boundary?

I have questions. I am yet to learn to more on lines of sustainability, on balance of diverse ecosystems and on the intuitive truth of self, regarding my actions. And I will take more actions towards gaining more perspective and/or clarity.

It’s not only about the environment. It is not only about the animals/birds. It is definitely now about our survival. None of this alone, but as a part of the same.

Community Manager