Adventures in Aipotu: Episode 10, Part 2
Bisakha turned back to Damini. "This land used to be fertile. It has been destroyed over time. Our people have pledged to rejuvenate our land even if it costs us our lives. We were inspired by the Bishnois who lay down their lives for the trees. The environment is important and we know that Aipotu will be destroyed if the environment is destroyed. It is our way of telling all on Aipotu that we are closely connected with the environment. Some decades ago, the city that is a few hundred miles away began to bring toxic solid waste generated within the city and dumping it here. Look how they have piled highly toxic chemicals all around us. We became even more determined that we must rejuvenate this land. We have been working on it since. Filo has also been helping us."
"Aw c'mon auntie", Maya said to Bisakha. "What is the point of this? We will die if we continue to stay here. Don't you understand this? What is the point of the ideology? We could go and live in the city like everyone else. We could then live with regular supply of water from our taps. Not only that, we shall have electricity, and cars, and movies and not bear this drudgery."
"Don't you see Maya, that not only we but everything on Aipotu will cease to exist if we move?", Bisakha shot back. "There are substantial questions here. Is water a property to be owned by a company or is water a shared resource that people may use? Can someone own the water flowing in a river next to your house and prevent you from drinking out of it? Will they own the water in our wells? Do we have to pay for the water our plants use to grow? And if they own the water, will they pay us rent when their water falls our roof tops or fills up our wells? Who has right to water? What is the priority use of water to use it to survive or for use in making products for sale? Will we allow first use of water to entities that use millions of gallons to make and sell beverages or people who need to live? Should we let a rich farmer drill deep bore wells in a dry region and use up water to grow sugarcane while the rest die from thirst and hunger? These are questions that have to be debated and answered and if we walk away, there will be no debate."
"Auntie, you are so passé", Maya shot back. "We do not get clean water now. These companies will provide us clean water. We have major shortage of water. These companies will ensure a regular supply of water. Clearly, they will help solve the water problem around the world. What is wrong if they make some money off it? Clearly, they deserve that fee."
The group watched as aunt and niece argued passionately. Damini was reminded of Sharad's arguments with her parents at home and she smiled. She noticed that Bisakha stopped from shooting back at Maya's personal barb with one of her own. Controlling herself, she said, "Dear Maya, that is not the whole story, is it? Who has caused the pollution of water? These companies first pollute water and then want to clean it up for a fee? In fact, they should be made to clean up their mess as well as pay us for the inconvenience. And please do not tell me that companies will solve our water crisis while we cannot. Remember that there have been people living in the driest of regions in Sahara for centuries, managing their water and keeping it clean. We certainly do not need someone to come and take away our rights to water."
"Bisakha has a point there, Maya", Filo said walking in. Maya made a face at him for taking her Aunt's side and Filo laughed. "Do you think that millions of people around the world can pay even the most nominal amount for water? Besides, would you rather give up all your rights and live as a slave, or perhaps like a house dog whose every need is taken care of", Filo continued. "It may not, however, not run around without a leash, not bark when it wants to, not play when it wants to. Freedom is the cost. Do you think that the dog is living a good life or do you think it is exploited?"
"On the same grounds, once you give up your rights over water or over any other natural resource, you are open to being exploited. Those who control that resource will initially give you water but soon will begin to exploit in exchange for water. Why should not someone get a pound of flesh from you for something he has that you desperately need?"
"Besides", the old woman in the green dress shot back, "who gave them the right over that water? Are they more equal than we are? Are they more human than we are? Water is part of nature. We have as much right on water as they do."
"Whatever, auntie", Maya said exasperated. "You will continue to live in drudgery and I do not care to. What do I get from this environment that I should care to sacrifice my life for it? Bah. The day I can, I will leave." With that she got up and left the group.
Bisakha smiled wryly. "It is difficult", she said to Filo. "Yes, I know", Filo replied. "It is difficult to see why we must stick to saving the environment and why we must keep fighting for our rights when it seems that the alternative is so much rosier."
"As your saying goes", Filo reminded Bisakha, "if we do not worry about how our actions impact seven generations after us, we will be destroyed." Bisakha nodded her head but her face had a blank look as if a conflict raged within. Filo, Damini and Bisakha had begun to walk out of the courtyard. After a short while, Bisakha asked, "Have you men decided what you want to do about those drums?"
Filo sighed. "It means that another round of intense protests will have to begin again. We cannot have them dumping radioactive wastes in our neighborhood. I think they are doing it to force us to leave this place. We have to begin to plan our demonstrations. They should begin in a few days. We will make sure they are peaceful. We must go and tell our brothers and sisters who live in cities about the radioactive wastes their city is dumping in our neighborhood and the results of those wastes."
"But what about those drums that have already been thrown there?", Damini asked.
Filo became quiet for a while. Then he turned to Damini and said, "I will need your help in that my friend. I do not want to but there is no other way." Bisakha was curious to know how this little girl could help where the others could not but the look in Filo's green eyes told her that she better not ask. So she decided that she must leave these two to do what must be done.
"All right, dear girl", Bisakha said, holding Damini's hand warmly, "I must go now. Take care." She hugged Filo and then turned around and walked back towards the courtyard.
Damini turned to Filo with a questioning look. What could she do, she wondered. Filo did not reply but kept walking. When they reached the rim, he sat down on a large stone and turned to Damini.
"Dear friend", he said. "I must ask you for a favor. If you refuse, I will understand. You see, we live here. This is our real world. If we were exposed to the radioactive waste, it would affect us." With that, Filo paused.
Damini immediately caught on. With a smile she said, "and I am in a dream world. So anything I do here does not affect me."
Filo smiled back. You are one smart young woman.
"I will do it", Damini replied. "But what do I need to do?"
Filo stood up and walked along the rim, picked up some sheets and came back. Handing them to Damini, he said, "These sheets can insulate the radioactive wastes. I will wrap myself in one of these sheets and with the others form bags that can be used to wrap up those drums. Once I wrap myself up, I cannot see. Those drums are heavy and I will need some help. We do not have enough sheets for another individual and I do not wish to expose anyone else to radiation. If you come and help me, we can make temporary containers for those drums. These containers will be all right for about a month and hopefully by then, we will have solved this problem."
"That sounds easy", Damini replied. "I can do it. I wish my parents could see me now. They would not think that I was irresponsible", Damini added smiling.
Filo patted her back and said, "You are more responsible than any other person of your age that I have met. And if you remember that a cat has nine lives, you will realize that I have meet quite a large number of young people."
The two of them walked towards the drum one in a crudely made radioactive suit and the other in jeans. It took them a while but at the end of their efforts all the drums had been sealed within these sheets. The sheets looked flimsy but Filo was confident that they would hold for a month at least. It would prevent the leaking radioactive fluid from getting into the earth and the water.
"We should be heading back to our hut", Filo said. "Sophie might be wondering where we have disappeared. She too was expecting to meet you, you know. She has many things to tell you", he added with a smile.