Fruits of lateral thinking


Like truth, Mother Nature cannot be trademarked. Nature nourishes all. Sadly, en route in a rat race to the top of the proverbial garbage pile, university degrees, fat paycheques and unimaginable extents of affluence, tend to make one forget this truth, laments G Venkatesh

Silver bullets and panaceas do not exist. At least not on the material plane of existence! Yes, yogis, by communion with the Oversoul and the realisation that ‘Man is Soul occupying a Body and possessing a Mind’ do manage sometimes to find one – a cure for human misery and a ticket to eternal, untarnished divine bliss. On the material plane, one does, off and on, come across initiatives undertaken towards a primary goal, which have spillover positive effects – intended secondary goals or unintended benefits. We sometimes refer to such effort-rewards combinations in Indian languages, as ‘One stone, two mangoes’ or rather ‘One stone, many mangoes’, as the case may be. Talking of mangoes, that seems to be an apt metaphor, to move from, to outline an idea, which yours sincerely came across on the Facebook-timeline of a friend – Sharlet Fernandes recently, which actually is simple and doable prima facie, but may seem ‘fantastic’ and ‘idealistic’ to those who may focus on all the obstacles first. Adversities and pain bring epiphanies – all good and noble things have emerged from pain. The pain which we have witnessed of late, in India and the world over, owing to the pandemic, has thrown up many good ideas, lying dormant in the minds of men and women, who have woken up to the challenges looming large over humankind. Those who just see the obstacles and get cowed down by the thought of them, are like cats sitting on the fence, looking left and right at the enclosed gardens on either side, guarded fiercely by the owners thereof. These gardens may house fruit trees, to which the owners would stake sole claim. Everything in the garden, even if the product of accidental pollination facilitated by Mother Nature’s Wind or Bees automatically becomes the property of the owner. Gardens are good. In the cities they are like its lungs – soaking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen to enrich the polluted troposphere over cities. The products thereof may be out of reach to others. Let that be so, unless the owners themselves are not driven by a philanthropic, do-gooder energy, Insha’llah.

Recalling Dr Kalam

The said picture (also included herewith) reminded me first and foremost of our incomparable teacher-scientist-philosopher-philanthropist President Dr A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, who dreamt of planting 1 crore (10 million) saplings in India, and visualised that as a vital strategy in combating global warming – a useful contribution, he envisaged by India to humanity. His dream was partly fulfilled by the eco-friendly Tamil actor Vivek, and when he reached the 35-lakh (3.5 million) mark, he was summoned by God too, into the afterlife. The only good way to honour the dear departed is to carry on their legacies, and keep the lamp alit, and the candle illuminating the darkness even amidst gusty winds.

Municipal corporations and national/local authorities in charge of roads, railways and highways have done their bit here and there in India, by planting trees along the partitions on roads, and also beside pavements, on the strips which separate pedestrians from the traffic. But one often sees a lack of foresight and planning when one comes across some coconut palms and tall trees with relatively thinner trunks, which have been the causes of tragic deaths during the monsoon months. Dr Kalam – the brilliant mind that he possessed and the lateral thinking that his spiritual accomplishments had gifted him with – advocated the planting of jatropha along railway tracks. At once, sequestering carbon dioxide, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere and being a source of bio-diesel which would supplant a part of petroleum diesel and contribute to increasing the degree of self-sufficiency for the country, as far as transportation fuel requirements are concerned.This has been partly implemented by Indian Railways, with the biofuel angle being highly praiseworthy.

Any addition to the flora in the biosphere (urban or otherwise) is a positive step ahead. However, mindless implementation of environmental goals may come in the way of immense possibilities which could be uncovered courtesy spillover benefits. The picture referred to suggests that fruit trees could be planted instead of the ones which are being prioritised now. It goes without saying that these would surely need greater care – in terms of provision of nutrients and water. Nature’s bounties growing in these ‘urban orchards’ will be freely available to our homeless and hungry brethren. Even if those who are affluent wish to eat the fruits of these trees, it need not be looked upon as an intrusion. With time, they would realise – thanks to some of their well-meaning friends – that the fruits are best left to the homeless and hungry who cannot afford to buy them from the fruit market. In Sweden, where this author works, people staying in big houses with gardens housing fruit trees (apples and plums and berries usually), either donate the fruits to church charities or place them in refrigerators in supermarkets dedicated to feeding the hungry refugees and asylum seekers, or at times, sell them at nominal rates to supermarkets which sell them forward to consumers, at little or zero profit.

CO2, O2, food and biodiversity

Well, what one may overlook conveniently, is the possible contribution of fruit trees to biodiversity. Covid-19 has suddenly introduced many of us in cities to hitherto-unseen and hitherto-unheard birds. In my living memory, I do not recall having seem so many squirrels in New Mumbai. Fruit trees will be a haven for birds and squirrels. Some of them with thicker and wider branches and denser foliage will also be attractive nest-building sites for some birds which otherwise have to look for nooks and crannies in anthropogenic constructions for that purpose – surely not the best locations for their young ones to commence their lives from.
Do not trademark Mother Nature

Like truth, Mother Nature cannot be trademarked. Nature nourishes all. Sadly, en route in a rat race to the top of the proverbial garbage pile, university degrees, fat paycheques and unimaginable extents of affluence, tend to make one forget this truth. Awareness comes by itself. Trendsetters are discouraged and scoffed at. Those who keep on keeping on, do find support from likeminded individuals. Well, planting fruit trees along city roads cannot really be an individual enterprise, inasmuch as it falls under the aegis of the local government. But governments represent the will of the people. Petitions can surely be put forth. Once most of the stakeholders (not possible to get all) are on the same page, the initiative can get going. Till then, the rich and affluent that have fruit trees in their gardens can set an example by doing something novel and unprecedented. Donate, and spread the word. Food, water, blood, money, knowledge and physical labour – there are multiple ways to help fellow humans (and by extension, often, animals and birds too).

Perhaps, Jackie Shroff may be interested in motivating people, as he has been doing for quite some time now. Yours sincerely will be more than happy to assist in whatever way he can…

Acknowledgements: To Facebook friend Sharlet Fernandes, for the lead picture used in this article, which inspired me to pen this piece.

G. Venkatesh

G. Venkatesh is Associate Professor, Department of Engineering and Chemical Sciences, Faculty of Health, Science and Technology, Karlstad University, Sweden. He is also a freelance writer for several magazines around the world. The author has set up Varshita Venkatesh Girls’ Education Fund with Plan USA in memory of his wife.