India, with 6000 years of long history, had been a very obedient citizen of nature. Indians accepted, adapted and adjusted themselves in a variety of ways to their environment.
Indians have been using local water harvesting technologies by way of ahar and pyne in Bihar, johadin Rajasthan, jing and thingal in mountainous regions of India, and numerous other names practiced in different parts of India.
Environment in India was not an object of description but a ritual, a religion to learn something from and to know the summary of life and living.
River worship was symbolic of worshipping water, as is evident in the names that denote them: Ganga as Mata, Yamuna ji, and all the rivers accepted as females except Brahmaputra and Damodar.Trees were glorified. Places were named after trees as a mark of respect for the trees, for example, Champaran means a place of Champa trees, Vaishali was named after Sal and Sal was used for various types of buildings like Goshala, Pathshala, etc.
Names were based on such environmental symbolism rather than any functional entity.Nature was something to be revered, respected and feared.Disaster was perceived as valuable enough to learn from our mistakes, and as a tool to wipe out all our mistakes.
Cities were sustainable and so were the cropping patterns and inland water transportation.
The availability and management of the resources were decentralised. Decentralisation was the mantra for adaptation to the environment and to environmental management.
In Indian conditions, such symbolism offered a variety of benefits. There was decreased spatial interaction to save on movement of goods, and there was increased spatial specialisation to help utilisation of resources in the best possible manner and a niche lifestyle suited to tropical conditions like clothing, fashion, and clay-building evolved.
Why these perceptual distortions took place
The colonial imprint and the resultant mindset brought about a lot of change in the thinking of the Indian masses.
Colonialism, more than anything else, tries to bring about a change in the way colonised people think, it indents their psyche, makes them feel inferior and convinces them that they are inferior in terms of their language culture, lifestyle, their very identity so much so that they become slaves in their mind.
The environmental management that followed in India after Independence was based on the thinking patterns of the colonising countries and represented a western European thought process.
European countries had no idea about how Indian environmental sustainability was managed and linked to its livelihood. Moreover, the western European countries had not had enough experience in managing their own resources and their environment largely on account of a shallow depth of their history, their lesser biodiversity, short history of development and insufficient trial and error through which the Europeans had gone for in trying to manage their own resources and environment.
The thinking of western countries about the use of words reflected the thinking of a society that was not as rich in terms of values or education towards environment, and consequently, they did not attach much significance to the choice of words and semiotics. Their use of the words was not as well-thought.
India under the sedative influence of the British, abandoned its traditional wisdom and local genius, and adapted Nehruvian ideas of resource management whose, psyche, lifestyle, thinking, management was heavily influenced by the British. Indians used to describe nature and natural phenomena purely in terms of spirituality, purely wordly, purely sustainably, but sedated by colonial injection heavily influenced by Nehruvian thinking, they described every natural phenomena by being judgemental. For example, river inundation was described as flood, and an arid condition was described as drought-affected region.
As a heavily influenced colonial management mindset, Nehru followed everything that was western, often and most of the times ignoring and sometimes insulting the availability of local wisdom and genius. Everything was copied from the West against Indian thinking and whatever India had learnt.
One of the greatest tragedies of so-called modern civilization has now taught Indians to be judgmental towards nature, and looking down upon the very environment that created the Indians. Therefore, correcting our faulty perceptions and reviving our environmental philosophy and practices are likely to strengthen the foundations of our heritage. It is time not to be judgemental but to start being ethical towards our environment.
As a first lesson and solution to any environment related aspect, and also as the first step to solve the problem if it is, is necessary to change the perception of people about their surroundings and their nature, about mother Earth and all the components of environment. People must be prompted to correct their perceptual distortions, or else nature, over which no one can win, will continue to be viewed in a judgemental manner. The reality is, in its essence, in spirit, in form, it is actually nature that knows best. Environment is our life. It must be our love.
The perceptual modifications that we require to undergo now are many.
Firstly, Nature is to be seen as a means of learning, as a teacher, as a mentor and as an omnipotent inspiration. Nature has been and continues to be an institution, the best institution mankind has ever seen and observed, and one that is capable of providing a lot of insight as well as intuitive learning. Intuition helps in coping with life’s unpredictability, uncertainty, and undiscovered aspects of it.
Secondly, environment is not something, which can be modified, nor is it something that can be commented uponor something that always follows logic. Environment is to be seen as something that provides insights and intuition.
Thirdly, there are no problems in the environment that require to be solved, there are no ailments that require to be cured, no patches that required to be cleaned, and there are no complexities that are to be managed—t here are only phenomena to be understood, respected and consequently, desired.
It is in this light that volcanic activity in Indonesia is to be viewed, earthquake anywhere is to be understood, tsunamis are to be appreciated. The volcanic eruptions are seen as creating problem for aviation or seen as a pollutant emanating toxic fumes into the environment. The fact is that without volcanic eruptions, the atmosphere would have lost a major chance of getting it replenished. Without a billion or so earthquakes, there was no way the Himalayas would have formed. The tsunamis that take place clean and replenish the entire coastal areas.
No one has described volcanic eruption as ‘majestic’, ‘heavenly‘ or ‘eternal beauty”. A volcanic eruption is the most awesome phenomena of nature; most astonishing, amazing, extraordinary, godly event. Expressions change the way people think and perceive their surroundings.
All the so called ’hazards‘, whether volcanic, sismic, oceanic, riverine, etc. have been beneficial to mankind. Without these ‘hazards’, there was no way human beings could have lived on this planet. The base for human habitation and its activity have been set by earthquakes, volcanic activity, tsunamis and all those natural phenomena which the modern civilization calls as ‘hazard’ or disaster.
Thus, precisely, environmental problems are not a problem to be solved or managed. Environment is itself the best manager and we can be managed best by adjusting and adopting to it. Nature is always changing, warming and cooling are part of it. Climate has not changed; it’s the people and their perception towards climate that has changed. Change is the only constant in nature. There are no hazards; there are only perceptions and phenomena. Nature is not our facilitator but our heritage that commands us. It is not an object, but our mentor. There are no issues; no excesses in nature, there are only marvels.
Any thinking other than that is a perceptual distortion. This realistic perception will help nature reclaim its respect for supporting mankind, and teaching and educating it. Indeed technology will be important, and the best way to say is, “plan with nature design with technology”.
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