Saturday, March 31, 2012

The sun might as well burst - mans environmental story

In Surah Rahman it mentions Meezan, "balance". Man is to live in a balance; the world was built in a balance. Mans footprint in this world should maintain neutrality.

For the age of Man, the ancients kept this balance, Whether it was self taught, gained through experience or just plain luck, it happened through thousands of years. The population was generally maintained below 500-600 million and man was sustainable.  He plowed the land, lived in localities, wasted little and was happy to be at one with his environment. Man never cut useful trees, or made large dams, stored more than his needs and ended his life more or less as he was born. Maybe 0.1% of the population, the Lords and the Ladies, lived it up. They had large castles, scores of attendants, many clothes, lots of food. They even aspired to travel to large towns to meet others like them and also were greedy enough to try to grab more. But this small proportion of population did not effect the balance of the world.

Sometime between 1750-1800, this changed. Three specific events changed us.

The Industrial Revolution came home to create mass production, storage and movement. Then the French Revolution taught the common man, he has as much right as the Kings, Lords and Ladies.  Lastly The American Revolution taught the same common man the route of how to get from the bottom of the pile to near the top. The story was complete and man went after his right to live an independent and good life with all speed and strength. He now consumed as much as he could, science provided him the wherewithal to do so - production, movement and storage. The large city was born. Population multiplied and consumption increased further. This never ending spiral of the good life, hence more consumption, more need, therefore better science, and with better living come more people (better health and longer lives) and eventually more consumption, continues till today. The population which was a steady 600 mn, will peak at 9 bn in 2045. And the earth is operating at more than one earths level and that is not a sustainable model. We have lost that balance, which was maintained by our ancient forefathers.

So did we know about it? Well back in 1872 they discovered acid rain and therefore had an idea that they were doing adverse things to the environment. But we soldiered on. Through the radiation discovery of the Curies, the two World Wars, when Oppenheimer blew the bomb and the ensuing carnage of testing, the baby boomers love of gas guzzlers, the travel boom, the digital age and now the nano technology age. We have continued to use more, more and more and despite all the hue and cry, we still every year continue to consume more.

Now what is really happening out there to show things are changing. Continuously we keep getting hotter years, but we brush that off. The unusual weather patterns, like freak tornadoes, cold waves, hurricanes, floods and untimely weather are all the signs of change, but we look the other way. The oil & gas, consumer  and airline lobbies are too powerful to allow change to happen. Sometime in the 50's a sadhu at the foot of the Himalayas, who saw change, started photographing himself against the snow line every five years. Eleven pictures and a lifetime later (55 years), this same sadhu had traversed up the mountain side and the snowline had receded rapidly. The satellite pictures comparing Arctic and Greenland in 1970 and 2010 show a massive change, the ice is fast disappearing. Film crews have captured live huge chunks of ice pack, some 50 sq miles, breaking off in Greenland. Similarly whole lakes are seen to disappear within less than an hour, as the ice melts and a hole created at the bottom, allows the lake to flow below the ice pack, grease the bottom and make the flow of ice pack to the sea even easier.

Once the ice pack disappears in the Arctic and Greenland, our goose is cooked. This is the premier reflector of suns rays and it will cause a huge jump in the heat. The sun might as well burst and hit us. It will be faster and quicker. We are consuming our endowment for living, and unless we stop, think and reverse this process, the legacy we leave our children will be a legacy of heat and lack of resources, like food and water. We don't really want to do this surely? We love our children too much, to allow this to happen. Do something.....

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Age of Structure


The magic which Socrates and Falcao weaved on the ground, with a bunch of others moving in, around and across them -all helter skelter – was quite unseen before. At least that was my opinion. Infact, I think it was the opinion of all those who watched and understood sports.   Today, some 30 years later while one of the magicians Socrates has departed this world, one watches a football game and can you see Barcelona imitations? They all want to play the one way. One fits all. Only problem is when everyone plays the same way, it becomes a bit static and cancels out exuberance, fun and innovation.

Watch a bit of Formula One. Has it not become a worldwide franchise, an aspirational set up desired by all who come to drink at its fountain? Back in the 70s and 80s when Lauda, Piquet and Prost drove their behemoths down weaving, uncertain roads, they played with danger, lived the joy of that freedom to express and thrill and won the hearts of many. Today Schumacher, Hamilton and Vettal drive covered by team orders, controlled by computers which tells them everything and they sit and adjust all this in the pit, while the car runs its course. Overtaking cannot happen – well rarely – because like football they are all the same, almost.

So what is the purpose of sports? Is it for fun or for competition? Surely parts of it has to be a spectacle, otherwise why would you pay to watch.  In ancient Greece or Rome, did they have athletes and gladiators to bore people into staying home? But, today gladiators are almost the same. They fight the same way and after a while all that sameness begins to pall. And this does not just apply to sports. It applies to all of life. We live, eat, manage and enjoy (?) things which are programmed towards sameness and we are programmed that way also. The age of structure has arrived unfortunately, and some of us do not fit in.

So how did we get here? One telling statistics alone gives it all away. If you compare playground activity in North America, in 1970 versus 2005….1970 is 100, 2005 is 10. Older generations would remember playgrounds were the laboratory of life. You competed, fought, thought, planned, made friends and loved on the playground. Even from the age of a couple of years. It was not always easy and not always fair, but hey! Life is like that. Most of this activity has now been transferred in house into computer games and social networks. So kids have not been taught how to interact with others, they have no social skills, they are just great technicians. What does a technician do best? He/she creates machines and structures. That is what we are getting here.

Now, I am not going into the why of it, because that is a whole new discussion for later. For instance, why are people not sending kids to playgrounds? Why are they not walking away from this programmed crap served out to us day in and day out? But, I will tell you what I see in a typical day of this structured existence.

Every morning we wake up at 8 am, because we need to get to office at 9. We know that a breakfast of sanitized milk and pops awaits us, as that is what the health site ordered. We then put on clothes which we are expected to wear in the office. If it is casual, we are lucky, at least we get to wear easy stuff, but even in there is programming, as we know we are expected to wear that. We get to the tube (metro) station and buy the same newspaper. We stand in the same place and when the 8.35 stops, we don’t need to move at all, just walk in and take our customary seat. Nod at familiar looking faces and get on with the serious business of life. Arrive at the office, put on a serious face, say good morning or hi or salaam to a few people, grab my chair and open the computer, review the emails, dispose of them adequately and then look at my work day plan. Have a couple of meetings, discuss the previous minutes, decide on new actions after a couple of intense arguments and then go out for a sandwich during lunch. If I am already stressed out then go to the park and have a lonely lunch. Comeback to the office, for a bit more of the same. Maybe a review with the boss on what is happening. More emails, more meetings, and then end of day. Rewind the morning process in the tube, get home, feel tired, listen to the family, if you have some strength left, have a fight with the wife. Eat your dinner, which you know is going to be near about X, and by 10 pm you are tired and off to bed. End of day. And next morning back once more. Another day uselessly spent. Reminds me of the Beatles and ‘A Day in the Life’. Where is love, spirituality and Allah, contributing to the human race and just plain fun?

People get a life. Before you know it you will be 60 plus and life will have gone. Your children will also have gone, to do the same things you have been for 30 years. The search for security and sustenance is not that you live a robots life. It does not matter that you are that 0.1%, who will become CEOs etc. I have been there and can tell you it is not any different. The problems are bigger, the money is bigger, the ego is bigger, you have a longer way to fall. In the end you are doing the same thing, with no real clear purpose behind it, because it all is going to end still and life will then throw you in a heap on the side and move on. So do something you are not expected to do and do it without structure. Do it with the heart rather than a programmed head. You will enjoy it and maybe we all will get our world back again.  And maybe we will solve the problems of so many, who have real issues.
we are trapped...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Pakistani in Montreal

I warn you that this is a cautionary tale and not for one who looks at the world through normal lenses. They would say that this is just the ramblings of a person who has analysed life too often and not taken the fruits on offer. In effect 'khattay ungoor' (sour grapes)..

Arriving in Montreal yesterday evening, I took my customary walk through the city, yesterday and today...it has been my customary way in some 45 countries and many more cities. I say this not to boast, but rather to get across that this is a tried and tested procedure, which allows me to see reality unblemished and becomes a window to understanding the culture and the city in itself. Perhaps, I also wanted to resolve the conundrum of my friends and acquaintances spending millions in search of the 'promises of jannah'.

The air was cool and the temperature was bordering on the cold. And as usual what has fascinated me from my first trip to the hallowed temperate regions of this world almost 40 years ago. How do the women manage to wear these skimpy outfits without a shred of discomfort ? Are they superhuman? and if so,why the male of the same species and background go more or less fully clothed? It is a conundrum yet unsolved in my mind.

Anyway, the flashes, which this morning have left some impressions of this society are put on paper for you all to read. I do not conclude, as it is not my place to pass judgement on others. Let me also add that this is one of several trips to Canada, which I have taken in these last few years, but none of them were to Quebec. But there is little to show any differences...except the French language and Gallic architecture. These signs of the past have been sanitized and crushed into a more homogenous present, more in line with the global environment.

Watch the eyes and the tread of people. Anywhere in the world they give you a peek into the character of the society, but not necessarily all its individuals. In this case the eyes were vacant, they did not meet you when you looked directly into them...there was no focus. The tread was deliberate and slow, on a Thursday morning for office workers, approaching a destination where they would spend a large part of the day. Did it show that these were a people without any desire, perhaps stripped of the essentials of human conflict which allows us to surface stronger and better? Had economic certainty led to a lack of desire. Were the vacant eyes, lacking all emotions, showing us where we should not have gone at all? Is this too deep a probe into what the surface merely indicated.

Stranger than reality is the lack of children. Where have the little ones gone. In a city of 3 million, one would see more? But in a whole day, in downtown Montreal I have seen a handful..There are no explanations, but perhaps the Anglo-Saxon grows more infertile, as their millennium of rule begins to vanish from the realms of this world. There were many in the 25-35 years bracket, so they must have been children once. And then the old, oh! so many.. So is this the answer to some of the questions? Is an aging, infertile society, staring its doom in the face, reaching to other races to extend its traces. As Moses once was invited by Midian to pro-create and leave his progeny in its place of rule.

The old were generally bunched together. The young did not have time for them. So they walked and talked, mainly in French, frankly a language whose logic and structure escapes me.  So what would they be discussing? Perhaps their demeanor would give one a clue. But soft, they do not show much emotion. That has been the eternal strength of the Anglo-Saxon. For long they have held their emotions in check. It's all turned inwards. Maybe its the cold temperate climate - as opposed to our hot blooded, boiling environment. But then are we humans or machines. Did not the Divine make us out to feel some of what is happening, or did he want us to kill our insides and make it a processing central unit.

So the mystery of the old remains? Not really, there were other places to look. See that old man standing at the corner, staring at the thick grey wall across the road. Surely he is lonely, and does his frost bitten, purple nose suggest pain endured? Is that all he has left of a goodly strive through 65 years of existence? 

Or see that pony tailed one, in silver grey hair. He is coming out of the age of Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda and Easy Rider...why does he proudly show an emblazoned T-shirt, which must be 35 years old. For its faded facade exhibits the Dark Side of the Moon. Is this then Roger Waters, his stardom years behind him and now standing in the midst of nowhere, waiting for recognition? Should I have leapt forward and hugged him, as a star I watched 30 years ago. Why is this old man, way out of time and all crumpled, standing there...he does look lonely. Where are his friends? or children? or the social security people. If he is Roger Waters, I hope someone gives him his due.

Then there is the busker striding (?) towards an unknown place, his guitar hanging around his shoulder . Who knows he might perform today and go home with loads of appreciation and cash. The best song I have ever heard is by such a one, in Bond Street Station in 1983. I remember wishing the tube away when it did arrive, as I wanted to hear more. Alas this one is old and limping. Why does he do this then? And when it gets colder will he still come out to perform with frost bitten fingers? Does not anyone see this struggle and do they not show him a shred of empathy? No they just do not see him, as he shuffles along. That is left to me, because I am a stranger and new to this environment. Leave me six months and I too shall not see him.

My day was defined by 3 events which stand out.

The blonde woman in the Mini Cooper convertible. Her hair flowing in the air, her dark glasses shielding her looks,, her arrogance shown to the world at large, while the sun beats down on her hair and car. They both shone. She on the other hand seemed not to. You see many of these in every society. They think they are the beautiful people. But do they really count. Will they effect society? Oh so many affectations, will they spend their lives doing good or will they be spending lots of money. What will they be remembered for when their beauty and position will inevitably decline? I remember thinking Oh! I have seen her before, in my school, at various la-di-la parties, at media centric events and especially in rich peoples homes.

The man was maybe mid thirties and strode out ahead, when the passenger crossing light was red. There was no traffic at all and so it was okay? Probably. In his place I would have done it. But, I was on the other side of the road, watching interestedly. Hey, but look, three strides out and this warrior looks around and sees no one follows him. So watch him turn on his heels and go back to home base. Amazingly, watching the flock standing around him, there was no reaction! No one reprimanded him when he moved forward, no one was smug when he returned and no one was even appreciative of him. The lack of interest was the most frightening, as the detachment echoed what one saw in the eyes. So is this discipline? Sure, partially. Is this a population of sheep. Will they only exist within rules, follow rules and break no rules? And will they also function only riskless. Can this society ever produce tigers, or will they forever remain a bunch of sheep. How will the tiger survive, nay blossom in this environment, the system frowns and watches over one. A depressing thought !!!!

Lastly what made my day today. In the middle of this soulless time, I ran into an enchantress. Seemingly unaware, this youngish lady walked by and suddenly without reason or warning, broke into a beaming smile. Her rather normal face ( she did not stand out) suddenly turned Venus like. This would be my definition of beauty, when the ordinary acquires an extraordinary air. A little more review showed that she wore clothes which were different from the environment, she was darker and her features would lead one to hazard a guess and say South American. So maybe that explained it, but still it made my day.

Now for some quick one liners, before the summation.
  • A strange sight of a long haired homeless asking for food at Burger King...they turned him away
  • A middle aged lady playing the saxophone at a corner...not a bad job at all
  • The veggie burger is to be avoided, it was totally tasteless
  • A protest by University service (non-academic) employees, for equal treatment
  • The supermarket service is oh so slow....as is the fast food joint.
  • Breakfast place was not open in the morning, but open in the evening
  • The fruit tastes tasteless...the organic food is expensive and small sized
  • Why do they stop to kiss in the middle of a road crossing. Will they not wait till they cross to the other side.
  • Where are the jewellery shops in the malls. Only costume stuff.
  • The sordid side of town does come out on the roads in downtown in the evenings.
So to a summation. I walked out this evening and saw plenty go shuffling and lost in thoughts towards their well deserved rest, whatever their destination. Some to car parks, others to metro stations and still others to bus stations. Rarely one found bikers too. But they all seemed an army of beings, working like zombies to achieve the unattainable, a nirvana through their commercial enterprise. It left me wondering whether all the mannequins in the shop windows, are any different to what is available on the pavement of this city. So at the end, as I walked two simultaneous voices echoed in my mind. The voice of Patrick Stewart, beaming back through the ages from Star Trek Next Generation " They are the Borg and you are assimilated" and the haunting voice coming out of Sloop John B, "I wanna go home, Let me go home".