Le Question: Will you get me a new globe?

For his seventh birthday I gifted Shashwat a globe. It met a long-standing demand and soon enough he had charted the oceans, seas, continents, polar ice caps (the great melt, breaking ice shelf), the Pacific Ring of Fire (volcanoes), Polynesia (extinct flightless birds), Madagascar (the island and the movie), the Sahara (the Sidewinder’s abode), the Himalayas, France (local colonizer), England (the bigger colonizer), India, a few countries, major cities and Semri (our village in Uttar Pradesh – the approximate location in this case). 

All was well in our miniature heaven, now home to a miniature Earth. Until Le Question was popped. 

Thus it went:

Shashwat: So in a few years’ time will you get me a new globe? 

Me: Why? Nothing will change, except maybe a few new countries (I am still in shock after the breakup of the USSR and the resultant mass-production of countries — and careful never to rule out another such event). 

S: No, not countries. The shorelines may change, islands will disappear, and ice caps may not be there either. 

Me: Why? 

S: If global warming continues… 

Our heaven had been invaded by a dark malevolent religion practiced by the Eco-Warriors, and one of its trusted followers was now a full convert. It was like finding a pagan in the midst of priests. Not only did he profess a different faith, he was asking questions, extremely uncomfortable ones at that.

I wonder how he would have imagined the islands drowning. Waters slowly rise, everything gets cramped in smaller and smaller spaces, earth is washed away in chunks. Desperate to reach higher ground, predator and the prey are confined in ever-closer proximity. Short-term survival is pitted against eventual and certain doom. 

For a child it’s the stuff of nightmares — and children have vivid imaginations.

Jane Resture, a poet from the Pacific Oceanic Islands, has felt sea levels rise slowly and surely in her time. She writes:

But as years go by we wonder why the shoreline is not the same
The things we knew as always true somehow do not remain

The breakers break on higher ground – the outer palms are falling down
The taro pits begin to die and the village elders wonder why.

I will read it out to him when I have the courage to do so.

I suspect — actually, I am quite convinced — that children, unlike us, lack the subconscious filing system that we employ so effectively when faced with inconvenient truths. Unlike adults they cannot tuck them away in the netherworld of conscious memory and then force them to stay put with firm ignorance, deliberate forgetfulness or simple rationalization until they cease to matter. Unlike us, each child who is aware of the state of the planet carries a heavy burden with which he or she tries to grapple, often with no help. Our every action is scrutinized and their minds are busy answering self-posed questions. It’s a continuous process into which grownups are not co-opted, especially since around them, they see scant evidence of any action even when global warming is now a part of our lexicon and every TV channel worth its airtime is blaring out the message 24×7. 

Maybe they prefer to preserve our respectability and hence keep the questioning on a tight leash, preferring internal dialogue instead.

Shashwat thinks that the water used (or rather wasted) while shooting the “Jab life ho out of control” song in the Aamir Khan-starrer 3 Idiots must be special effects. Why would responsible grown-ups waste so much water when they know that producing clean water requires energy, and hence carries a price tag in terms of greenhouse emissions? 

The question has been posed and answered; our dignity is preserved, or is it?

Mine is not, and I have the answer from him. 

Recently, faced with the prospect of riding pillion with our family of four, my wife asked me to carry on with the kids while she walked back home (I suspect it also had something to do with my riding skills). I rode on, circled the next block and crept up behind her. Uncomfortable questioning ensued immediately. 

S: Why did you do that? 
Me: I wanted to surprise your mom by coming up from behind her. 
S: And produce more global warming? 

My crime? I had driven the two-wheeler for an extra 500 meters than the absolute minimum needed to get home. Talk of marriage ending the romance, kids absolutely annihilate it! And ecologically-minded ones are out with the probing knives. It’s time for us to feel the pain.

Text and Photographs by Sahastrarashmi



  • SR

    Traveller, photographer, philosopher, art connoisseur, trekking guru, and master trip planner, Sahastrarashmi (SR or Sahastra to his friends) is on a relentless quest for the story of life. An engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, he works in Chennai, India and lives (on weekends) in the former French enclave of Pondicherry (Puducherry to the officious). He is on a mission to introduce the uninitiated to the glory of the Himalaya.

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