The slow death of a Paradise

Travelling has always been helpful for me to grow up as an individual. Travelling by buses or by trains gives that extra opportunity to observe the landscape, the locale and the natural beauty. Being from Konkan a land where lord was utmost liberal in ushering natural beauty, has only helped me in enjoying the nature all over. Last week i traveled to my native place and it has given me two stories to write…

Travelling to native place, especially during summer time has been kind of a routine for most of the people from coastal best of Maharashtra. No wonder you will find the trains, buses and now even flights full during this season. I have been to my native place countless times and am witness to changing times, sadly enough, the change is not for good though.

There was a time when Konkan was a serene place, the only mode of reaching there was a red state transport bus, the journey of which was nightmarish to say the least.  However, in the hindsight, i sometimes feel that it was good that there was least connectivity from urban world. People were sanitized from the ills of modern lives. There was greenery everywhere, the summer vacation meant that you would be treated with real Alphonso mangoes, jack fruits, cashew nuts and other seasonal fruits. Those who enjoyed sea food would also get it in abundance. Life moved at slow paced, the needs of the village folk were minimal and hence they had time in aplenty. I would spend my evenings near the Terekhol Creek where my brother ran a small canteen. Villagers would flock that canteen and i would listen to endless tales of village politics, ghosts, evil spirits and other such stories which i would not get to hear in city. At times i would treat myself at the cost of my father or my brother by attending a “Dashavatari Natak” which ran till early in the morning. Those were magical days, people were simple, their aspirations simple and lived in complete tandem with nature. Both never violated each other.

With changing times, the reach of Konkan Railway, the extension of mobile services, the splurge of cable television meant that the remote hamlets of Konkan too started dreaming of coming in tune with changing times. People felt that they have been left far behind and so the mad rush began. The politicians milked the people showing them dreams of turning Konkan into California.

My part of Konkan, from where i belonged, which is called as “Tal Konkan” was still very scenic, still very virgin. In early part of 1990s the Usha Ispat Company first appeared in the scene at Redi some 04 kilometers away from my village. The company promised employment to local youths. However, soon it was found that the nature of job was that of labourers.  Cheap labourers and Engineers were hired by company and brought all the way from UP.

People started renting out their houses to these migrant employees and their families and soon the intrusion began. After some years another big company landed and it started buying land, people found easier way of making money by selling off their land. Then after some years a politician brought the entire stretch of coast of my village barricaded it and announced that he would build a private port and jetty, from where the manganese would be shipped to other part of the world. The annual ritual of Ganesh Visarjan was blocked as the coast was barricaded. People by then started realizing the folly they had made, but it was too late and the wheel was already turned and now could not be stopped.

This time when i visited my native place, from Sawantwadi to my native place, i found plots, where once cashew and mangoes were grown, rice was tilled, were now on sell, hoardings of builders announcing proposed row bungalow projects were on display on these plots.

I deliberately visited villages like Talawane & Kondura during my recent visit as i had heard that there was rampant mining. The entire stretch once was as greener as it could be with coconut, cashew, betelnut, mango and other plantations. Today the entire plantations are cut off and the mountains are barren and are dug all over. The mountains which once looked as a bride now looks like a wounded ailing person shouting for help. For few thousands or lakhs people are selling off their lands to these land and mining sharks.

What happens with this sudden richness? Do people grown financially literate enough to ensure proper investment of this new found richness? The answer is NO. People start renovating their houses, build bungalow, buy new gadgetry, cars, bikes. Today, younger generations of rural folks have better mobile phones than we in the cities have. The money so earned do not last even a generation. What next?

The same story happened in Thane district in 1980’s. When people started shifting to Kalyan Dombivli belt the local Aagri people, who were the land tillers sold off their land to builders and developers for few lakhs and now they are nowhere to be seen.

My Paradise is sliding the same way. But, alas, no one is prepared to listen. I do not say that change should not happen. Konkan should also progress, but most certainly not the way it is happening right now.

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Art of Fooling !!!

My upbringing in a mixed scenario must have made me a less devout person afterall. For I don’t pray much, nor do i frequent temples a lot. More than half of my academic years were spent in Christian Missionary Convent School, which nearly had converted me into a Christian, I had started loving attending mass etc. Then in the later part of my childhood, after my dad’s retirement, we shifted to a pre-dominantly Marathi Locality, where, i re-converted to my original religion. But, not a staunch follower of it though. Not that I do not believe in god, or his omnipresent existence, but, i do not buy the argument that you require a medium to reach to him. Not atleast the present medium of Spiritual Gurus or Babas.

This cult of Spiritual Babas, healers, Gurus have mushroomed like anything of late. And it is not the case that they exists in Hindu religion only. Switch on the television in the morning and you will find their counterparts in Christians, the so called evangelists, the healers as they claim to be, cure the people by merely touching them !!! The blind gets vision, the leper gets cured, the crippled, by mere touch starts sprinting back to life !!! How can a rational person, with little bit of gray cells in his brain believe ?  But unfortunately, these healers, babas and spiritual babas have a huge mass followings. Herd Mentality, is this one ? 24/7 Cable TV and Spiritual Channels have further accelerated the growth of these babas i presume.

There is no unanimity in the discourses of these so called spiritual leaders, one will tell you to leave behind the worldly pleasures and seek that unseen heavenly bliss, that ultimate reality, ironically, these very gurus don’t practice what they preach, they stay in palatial ashrams, lead five star lives. Why then preach what you yourself don’t practice, is this not the kind of duping gullible people who repose faith in you ? The Other will tell you the exactly opposite of what the first one told, the next one will claim that don’t pray to God, pray to me, for I am the re-incarnation of Lord. The Other will instill fear in you claiming that the world will end in near future and he is god-sent to be your savior. What a joke these people play.

One baba recently was caught recently a sex scandal, another was caught dealing in girls, one baba with huge mass following is accused in murder of two kids in black magic, other one is caught in misappropriation of funds. One baba who was a former CA in London came back and entered into this profitable venture, he was caught on camera helping people convert their black money.  Back home in Maharashtra, this is a hilarious tale of a Baba from Konkan, who was a small time government employee and was removed from job because of some corrupt practices, announced that he is re-incarnation of a big saint and today he calls himself Shankaracharya with his followings in some millions.

If only these babas kept to their domain, it would not have mattered, but with increase in their following and their wealth, they start thinking that they are empowered to do anything. They advise not only on spirituality, they become, your de-facto doctor, they run their own pharmacies which deal in millions. One baba’s pharmacy generates income of whopping 11,000 crore/- . Recent happenings, show how the babas can exceed their limits and start indulging into politics, governance etc leading to disastrous results.

But how does this crop of babas grow?  They initially cultivate their small fan following, spread rumors of their mystical powers, powers of curing and healing and then the rest is history. Once their following increases, the vote-bank conscious politicians of all hues and shades start cultivating these babas. Babas involving themselves in politics, acting as middlemen for politicians is no new a phenomena. In 70’s, 80’s and even today they continue to do so unabated. Reason why their fortunes are never checked, they are not held accountable for any taxes etc. Many top leaders, politicians are often seen sitting near the feet of these gurus, singing pangs about their virtues.

I often question myself how this level of fan following they acquire, the reason behind it. I recently got an answer in one research article on this growing crop of babas. The article said that the growing stress level, with loss of structured joint family system which helped to absorb the pressure have shown a trend among even the well educated ones to seek asylum with these people. The article further stated that India lacked well trained clinical psychologists and that people are not comfortable visiting them, for they believe that only mentally unstable persons visit them.

The uncertainties of modern life, is taking a great toll on all of us, and we are seeking refuse to these people, who exploit our plight in return of unseen and unheard of happiness, well being and eternal peace and of course a ticket to heaven, for these babas are the custodian of these tickets.

Thankfully, i have stayed away from these babas, till date, that is..