It was only a few months back (August 2018) that I wrote to you all, soaked and wet after the scary and devastating floods that wrecked havoc on this tiny piece of land known for its forested hills, rivers, waterways and long coastline. Now I write this burning and hot, dry and life less after the fires that have torn my innards apart. Yes, my innards already torn by mining, blasting and piling as the chariot of progress rolls on. All around is a different kind of heat generated by human noises and war cries that elections are causing..the false rings of promises and oaths to bring development and prosperity all around..the grins and cheers as each one adorns garbs that does not suit them, as they swear by honesty, sincerity and humbleness-virtues that you cannot even buy or loan from a shopping mall or bank. Yet it is there..am afraid of the pollution caused by speeding vehicles, the unnecessary burning of fossil fuels, the plastic pollution and burning of waste, the intense drought all around! I am shocked that safe food, reliable source of drinking water, secure livelihoods and sustainable life styles are not on any of the agendas !
This is along with the fires that have been spreading all over the hills since a month ago. Hill after hill in the forested areas of Attapady, Wynad, Idukki,Nelliampathy and Thiruvananthapuram burnt for days. No, many are still burning…Along with this was the shocking reports of intense and harsh burning in the forests of Bandipur and Mudumalai. For you these regions belong to different states with boundaries that mark protected areas and even sanctuaries. But for me it is my one and only body with the forests and hills my lungs, the rivers, streams and lakes my blue arteries ,the soil with its moisture and innumerable microorganisms my skin that gives me immunity and strength, the underground aquifers my veins that purify water and the animals and plants my appendages that give movement and energy to my life springs.
As the first flame from a cigarette thrown carelessly fell on my parched grass and small herbs, the crackling sound of fire licked up the already drying water in my body. As the mad mob of people organised by political and social groups set fire to the forests at the edge of their homes just because it gives refuge to an elephant they chose to call “rogue and villain”, I felt my innards burning from the outer layers of soil. What hurts and shocks me most is the vengeance and violence with which my appendages were burnt and pushed away by the mob from all possible refuges. The poachers who enter the forests secretly to set fire and scare the animals out of their bowers also have a cunning skill that is full of cruel avarice. Not to speak of the deliberate fires that are being set all over by the illicit brewers and illegal ganja cultivators. The forests which were once the abode of calmness, diversity and wisdom has become the closed arena for all that is unjust, inhuman and cruel. The epitome of this- the ultimate weapon with which ancient humans conquered Nature is still being used today to subjugate and rape me, make me powerless and helpless, inanimate and life less. I wonder if these humans do not realise the simple truth that without water, soil, air and living beings life for them would also be impossible? Or has the power of death wish overcome the human race who pride in being modern, civilised and progressive?
As fires burn all over my body, I can feel the life sustaining nutrients in my skin- the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium vanishing for ever at a scale in which their replenishment will take decades. I do not have to explain how these 3 along with organic carbon are essential to retain the fertility of soil that will sustain agriculture and food security. The third degree burns that I suffer removes all moisture from the soil which is so essential to hold the particles together. In many places, especially in the mountains of Western Ghats where the forests have burnt in summer, the soil that loses its holding capacity due to dryness gives away and slips down causing massive land slides in monsoon. The continuous occurrence of fires that raise soil and atmospheric temperatures, increase dust and particulate matter contributes to atmospheric carbon increasing warming and desiccation.
It breaks my already weak heart when the smell of burning flesh of innumerable creatures that inhabit the sub soil layers are destroyed by the fires. Little do we know about the web of fungi that connect tree and plant roots creating a communication network that transmits nutrients and energy. When this is destroyed in a fire, the heart of the forest dies. When crown fires spread to the top of the trees and they burn like standing torches before falling on my breast, it is the homes of squirrels, lizards, birds and monkeys that vanish. It is life’s last capacity to rejuvenate that you destroy without a thought, with a negligence that is criminal and inhuman.
I can understand that humans cannot sense the cool water droplets that evaporate from my innards when it burns. I can feel that you cannot ever hear the heart beats of green trees as they fall. I sense that you will never know the gasping of thousands of microorganisms that burn inside me, the organic carbon and life’s elements that vanish forever! Yes, I know that humans have lost this capacity that was natural for the ones who lived here and vestiges of whom are still here in some places.
But I fail to understand why you humans cannot sense the Obvious destruction of life that fire causes. Why do humans have to classify a bird as endangered, a tree as endemic, a butterfly as rare, a forest as unique if he does not know how best to protect them? Why do you need satellite images and data to understand that this year since January 2019 four times more fires have ravages the forests than in past years? Why is that you are not able to hear the frightened wing beats of hornbills and orioles, the scampering whimpers of monkeys and squirrels, the crackling of live tree barks, the slight hoof beats of deer and bison, the scared trumpeting of elephants ? Are you not able to smell the burning of live flesh, the dragging of half dead creatures as they struggle for breath?
I understand that it is not lack of funds that causes this massive overkill. It is so heartening to know that all over the world a campaign to stop Mother Earth from burning has been started by a 16 year old. The rallying of youngsters in Kerala to form a whatsapp group to involve in fire fighting during the last 2 months has been heartening. I watch with fear as young people climb the hills with insufficient and unsuitable gear to quench the fire, with primitive equipments , shoes, water bottles and costumes that attract the fires, with scarce water and vehicles that are unable to move in the harsh terrain. I bow my head with gratitude to those brave hearts who are willing to risk their lives so trees, grass, animals and birds, soil and water can be saved! It comes as a shock that some of your science sees fires as essential to “manage “forests while others have analysed that fire can cause irreparable damage to the water cycle disrupting replenishment especially in grasslands.
I wonder why we cannot start the preparations to prevent an out break of fire months before the summer. If setting fire to life giving forests, mountains and grasslands is an act of vandalism and deliberate crime, can a law not be made that can be enforced by the concerned authorities? I understand that after the floods we have fires being declared as a “ disaster “ for which urgent measures are implemented – we need to sit back and honestly analyse the impact and extent of human hands in creating this disaster. It would be foolish to create a delusion that forest fires are born out of “ bamboo poles rubbing against each other “ or a stray thunder bolt that strikes a tree in the summer rain”..as a friend said ‘ we are not living in Stone Age anymore, but in the age of Climate Change”. Yes, you should not fool yourselves any more..as the last drop of water disappears in the heat, as soil loses its life sustaining power, as the creatures that are fellow beings with right to live are being burnt, as trees that are suppliers of oxygen and reservoirs of carbon are fumigated…as you are grabbing water, air and soil from the lives of your children…spare a thought for me and help me to recharge and rejuvenate, to refresh and replenish so Earth can sustain life..Start by saying No to burning waste in your back yards….
With infinite patience but burning anger
Anitha.S in conversation with Dr.S.Santhi, Usha.P.E, Pappal, Badusha, Hamid Ali, AnuradhaSarang, Soumini, AshaKampurath, Aravind, Usha.S, Soumya, Ashok, Vijayakumar, Sanjeev ,Renu, Iris and many others.