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Ruhi Sonal

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Member Since: Jun, 2008

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The Disillusioned Activist
By Ruhi Sonal
Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rated "G" by the Author.

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Hypocrisy is the greatest vice prevalent in society. The protagonist is disturbed by the slow destruction of the environment being carried out by those who claim to be its preservers. But he cannot take an initiative to bring about a change by himself. Who wants to be bothered anyway?

"SAY NO TO POLYBAGS" screamed a bright blue and yellow sticker on the windshield of my car. It was a Saturday, and I was on my way to attend a seminar, "Future of the Earth". The seminar, organized by activists aimed to sensitize people about the dire consequences of our "unhealthy and unethical" ways of life. Personally, I had lost all interest in any sort of "save the environment" campaigns after my school life.

At school, students had been made to march the streets holding banners and form human chains in order to "protest" against degradation of the environment. I remembered promising my teacher that I wouldn't use polybags, air conditioners and other non eco friendly items. Back then, I had considered myself as a "good, awakened" citizen. My goodness and sense of awakening had long since disappeared.

I stared at the red light as it turned green and impatiently pressed the horn as the car in front of me took a while before responding to the change in signal. The sticker on my windshield had been given to me by some school kids who had been asked by their teachers to distribute them in the neighborhood. I recalled celebrating "Environment Week" at school. Each student had planted a sapling and vowed to take care of it. I had dutifully watered my neem sapling for a couple of weeks. I didn't know whether it had lived to become a full grown tree or had been trampled over by passer-byes. I had a sudden urge to find out. Tomorrow, I thought, I must visit my old home, where I had lived with my parents for twenty long, delightful years.

Lost in green memories, I absentmindedly entered the parking area reserved for members of the organization which was conducting the seminar. I looked around. As there was no parking incharge or security guard in sight, I parked my car there, next to a large black SUV, not bothering to drive back into the general parking.

The seminar was clearly aimed at blaming "the thoughtless rich" people like me for the impending environmental catastrophe. I felt responsible for pushing the earth on the brink of disaster by seeking the luxuries of an air conditioned office, an individually owned car (instead of making use of public transport) and wasting water by taking casual twenty minute showers twice a day. Feeling embarrassed for being an "insensitive" person, I desperately tried to concentrate on the speaker's words. Instead, it was the bright pattern of pink flowers on the sari of the activist which caught my attention. She was speaking in a high-pitched voice. She described the failures and responsibilities of the moneyed class. The only thing that I absorbed was the shrieky quality of her voice and the pink flowers on her beige sari. She stopped speaking an hour later, and I was handed a small thank you card along with a pamphlet explaining how to use energy judiciously. I walked towards the parking lot. As I got into my car, I noticed the activist in the floral printed sari sitting in the SUV next to me. She looked at me and gave a perfunctory nod.

As I drove home, I resolved to put into practice some of the energy saving measures mentioned in the pamphlet. That day, I realized how harsh the summers of Delhi were, as I flipped through a magazine, sweating, but determined not to use the air conditioners for more than a couple of hours. I asked my cook to prepare instant noodles for dinner as, I assumed, they must require the least amount of LPG. Feeling thoroughly unfulfilled after devouring a plate of energy-efficient maggi noodles, I grabbed a bar of chocolate before I went to bed.

Next morning, I woke up, excited about visiting my childhood home. I drove to the address etched in my memory. I remembered my father helping me memorize it when I was three years of age. In about half an hour, I reached the old, familiar surroundings. The park was full of kids playing hide and seek, just like it had been twenty years back. I parked my car outside the park and strolled through the bright, happy faces. The kids chattered enthusiastically in rapid English. I stopped short. My friends and I had always used Hindi to converse outside school. I smiled in acknowledgement of the changing times. Across the park was my childhood home. I walked a little faster, eager to see the place I so dearly loved. The house had been renovated by its new owners. Two new storeys had been added to the previously single storeyed structure. I fondly recognized the window which had once looked outside my bedroom. My eyes fell on the well looked after garden. Tears stung my eyes as my gaze rested on a tree stump right in the middle of the lawn. It had been the very spot where I had planted the neem sapling. The sight made me feel unsteady. I felt that my knees would buckle under my weight any moment. Feeling unable to breathe, I knelt down, my wet eyes fixed on the sad remains of the tree. My tree. A skinny man dressed in rags walked across the lawn, dragging large branches of neem behind him.
"Do you know when this tree was felled?" I called out to him.
"I cut it this morning. Madam had been complaining that it spoilt the beauty of the garden". He replied.

I got up slowly, and was about to make my way back, when I noticed a large black SUV parked in the garage. I recognized the number plate. It belonged to the activist in the floral sari. A strange realization hit me. My feet felt heavy as I tried to walk. The woman who had so earnestly expounded the need to protect the environment had ordered an eighteen year old tree to be felled. Although the sun shone brightly over my head, I felt a shiver run down my spine. In the bare stump lying lifeless on the grass, I could see the hypocrisy of the "awakened" faces I had seen the previous day. I drove back home in silence.

As soon as I entered my living room, I turned on the air conditioner and settled comfortably on the couch with the TV remote in one hand as I pulled out a cigarette from the half empty pack I had resolved not to touch the day before.


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