Musings

Vikas redefined

We are in the Pathology practical hall in the medical college. It is a room with long green platforms, designated work stations and several stools. There are sinks to conduct your experiments with bunsen burners near some work stations. Large airy windows without grills line the wall opposite to the blackboard. A collection of numbered specimens bottled in formalin are neatly arranged in one corner.

Four examiners gherao an MD student dressed in a lab apron. They are grilling him about autopsy procedures and grossing procedures. I can see sweat dribbling down the neck of the student. The 46 degree C temperature might have something to do with it, but I suspect the sweat has more to do with the missile-like questions which are whizzing past him.

Suddenly the solemnity of the viva is disturbed by a strange hacking noise. All heads turn at once. Through one of the long ungrilled windows, a Hanuman langur has made an entry. He seems to be the team leader and is baring his teeth wide in aggression. He gives cover to his troop and three more langurs enter the hall. One is a mother with a baby cuddling her. They jump to the first laboratory platform and then advance to the next, all the while making snarling angry noises.

The external examiners look bewildered, while the internals gently guide them to the door. A laboratory attendant tries to shoo them off but the langurs seem prepared to attack. He returns with a long stick. By then the langurs are near the bottled specimens. They are merely looking for water to quench their thirst in this heat. And it is no where to be found. A moment later, when the smell of formalin hits them, they probably realize that the strong smelling bottles don’t contain water, and they retrace their steps outside the window. Calm and normalcy returns to the examination. It would have been thrilling if the exam would have been “abandoned due to attack by monkeys”.

The next morning, I am working in my room, which is the first room as you enter the department. Suddenly I hear a hair-raising scream, and two medical students dressed in aprons run into my room without warning. The girls are shivering. They look at me sheepishly, and say “bandar“. A minute later, they apologize and disappear. The langurs had entered to drink water from the water coolers.

We have stayed here in Sevagram for the last two decades and learnt to co-exist with the langurs. They hardly turn aggressive. But in the last two weeks, we have seen them unusually desperate to enter places inhabited by humans. And they look very aggressive. They are simply looking for water to drink. And this summer has been extremely harsh. You have a shower at 11 pm because it is too hot to sleep, and the water you get from the taps is boiling hot.

I am reminded of the behaviour of animals before the tsunami. Animals always know when something is wrong. And they know it much before we so-called ‘brainy’ creatures realise it.

In the last five years, India has lost more than 1,20,000 hectares of primary forests as per press reports. This area has other reasons for raising the temperatures, including reckless large scale mining. Government data on websites claim to have planted saplings in crores and carried out reforestation drives. But where are these trees and plants? A drive on the dug up highway under construction, will show you shrivelled saplings planted on the dividers. In this heat when entire gardens are charred, do you expect new saplings to survive?

We are heading towards doom, created by our own policies. We deserve no better. After all, this is our idea of development. Sabka vikas, they call it.

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