A Sankranti Tale - Part 2



The lunch was indeed sumptuous. The food is usually the best part of this festival. There was sweet pongal, salt pongal, five vegetable side dishes, vatha kulambu, rasam, vada and payasam.

Why so many vegetable side dishes today, ma?

As I told you earlier today is the harvest festival. So we would have samples from various items of produce. We usually have five or seven vegetables made on this day. The vegetables have to be indigenous vegetables only and not all these foreign vegetables

What is wrong with foreign vegetables, ma?

They don’t subscribe to Indian values!

This is not at all funny! Why don’t you teach him something useful for a change?

Ok. Well, on a serious note, the answer lies in the theory of evolution. Over centuries, our bodies have evolved to derive nutrition from certain types of food. Therefore local foods are healthiest. Something new can seriously disrupt the health. It is the same from the farmer’s point of view as well. The eco system is closely interlinked: the soil, the bacteria, the insects, the animals, the other plants etc. A plant that is not indigenous can seriously disrupt the eco system.

Neeraj again had a blank look.

Shankar was by now in his elements. “Let me give an example. Rabbits are not an indigenous species in Australia and they were introduced by settlers. Since it was not a local animal, there were no local predators that ate rabbits.

But rabbits are so cute. Why do we need some animals to eat them? Isn't it nice for them to live peacefully without threat from cruel foxes and wolves?

Listen to what happened! Without predators rabbits kept multiplying and the country was teeming with rabbits. There were so many rabbits everywhere and they were just eating up all the crops. At this rate all plants in Australia would have been destroyed by the rabbits and it would have become a waste land. So man had to turn predator and start hunting down the rabbits.

Animals I can understand. But what is the problem with plants?

Different plants have to compete with each other for the same minerals in the soil. Say the foreign plant is used to tougher conditions abroad while the local plant has had it easy. Then the foreign plant will hog all the minerals, outgrow the local plants and totally crowd out the local plants. Also the local insects may not be used to the foreign plants and may go for an all-out attack on the remaining local plants thus reducing their chances even further. The local animals may not be used to eating the foreign plants and may start dying of starvation as they can’t evolve so fast. This the whole eco system would go kaput. It is a vast topic. But are you getting the general drift?

Neeraj was still looking confused. But he nodded his head. It had got him thinking.

The whole point is that we should not go against nature. If we go against nature it will have disastrous consequences,” Rama summarized.

Shankar shook his head, “That is not really true. Humanity has always tried to conquer nature. Even farming itself actually is an act against nature. Man forces nature to produce things he needs rather than what would have been naturally produced. And man has always been selectively breeding certain varieties of plants and animals to suit his needs. Just that it was slow and the eco system had time to adapt. Now the changes introduced by man are so rapid. Things like genetically modified crops are completely disruptive. From favoring certain species of plants to bringing in new plants from distant regions, now man has taken on the role of God and creating altogether new species of plants.

Rama once again piped in. “And you say all this is for good? I read that genetically modified crops cause all kinds of health problems, even cancer. That is why so many people are protesting against it and many countries have even banned them. Genetically modified crops should never be allowed.

The march of science can be slowed but never stopped. Any new technology comes with its own pitfalls. We should find solutions to the problems and not stop progress altogether. Can you imagine the possibilities? By cracking the genetic code, we will be able to create new species of plants and animals and maybe even entirely new eco systems. This could very well be the deal breaker if we are to move out of earth and begin to settle new planets.

Once again you have started all your sci-fi nonsense? You have to bring it in everywhere, don’t you?

It is not nonsense. Do you know China is seriously considering setting up a settlement in Mars?

Neeraj’s ears had perked up at the mention of Mars. He had been getting bored with all the talk of agriculture and eco systems. Astronomy, rockets and space travel were a more interesting topic.

Really, Pa? Do you think we would soon have humans on Mars?

Why not, my son? To my great grandfather, it was unimaginable to travel out of his village. To my grandfather, North India looked distant and unreachable. Your own grandfather has never left the Indian shores. For me, foreign travel has become routine. It is very much possible in your time; inter-planetary travel could very well be the norm. There are some people who think science has come to an end and we just need to get on with life. But there have always been people who have thought that from the times of Archimedes to Galileo to Einstein. In spite of this we have come so far and there is still a long way to go. As they say, the stars are the limit.

Shankar’s eyes were shining as were Neeraj’s. Lunch was done. Rama had already got busy clearing the plates. Father and son had the luxury to sit on their asses and dream of the glorious future only because she was there to take care of the mundane present.

Click here for Part 1

22 comments:

DS said...

Another well written post! I loved the inter planetery travel part the most.

the little princess said...

addition of the science part to the fiction gelled quite well....made a good read!

Purba said...

Loved how you simplified this complex subject. Made for a breezy read.

The Fool said...

Thanks a lot, DS.

The Fool said...

Thanks a lot, the little princes.

The Fool said...

Thanks a lot, Purba, This was something different I was attempting.

Bikramjit said...

amazingly it continues from part 1 .. Good one. and the way things are explained .. and oh yes what next is what i am thinking .. maybe a holiday to moon or mars in my life :)

Bikram's

indu chhibber said...

Ah this post contains so many nuggets of information i did not know about--thanks TF!

umashankar said...

Well, that turned to be an exquisite piece on nature and science. Many of the ideas jerked me out of slumber. The piece is reminiscent of Bernard Shaw's discussion plays. Excellent work, TF!

The Fool said...

Thanks Bikramjit. I do hope I get to travel out of space in my lifetime.

The Fool said...

Glad you like it, Indu. I always strive to provide some value to readers.

The Fool said...

It is indeed flattering to be compared to Bernard Shaw, Umashankar. I am glad I was able to provide some food for thought with my writing.

Suresh Chandrasekaran said...

As everyone has said, the information has been provided lucidly and interestingly. I myself thought that the finishing line was superb too :)

Zephyr said...

If one were to go to the roots of our customs, they are all scientific to the core. Ridiculing them and then playing farmville or letting the woman take up the mundane task of housework is not going to change that fact. Have you thought about making a series out of this?

I remember one of the early posts I had read on your blog being about your mother talking of the village and your grandparents' house.

The Fool said...

Thanks, Suresh. Glad you noticed the last line. I was hoping someone would mention that.

The Fool said...

That is true Zephyr. When I was thinking about Pongal and Agriculture, I had multiple streams of unrelated thought. So thought of this type family table dialogue to bring out the different points. It is an interesting idea to make a series of this. It did cross my mind if this generated sufficient interest to have the same family discuss other issues or have a different set of people discuss them rather than write them in my own voice in essay format.

Interesting that you noted the post about mom's visit to her village during her childhood. That was one of those from my heart as that experience was very dear to my heart and I derived this character's similar experience from there only.

Shanmu said...

I can see you still yearn for Ambasamudram when reading Asimov? :)

The Fool said...

Nice way of putting in Shanmu. Guess all of us have in someways this internal conflict between the excitement about the future and longing for the past.

Rachna said...

The story was well told with a great message. I know rituals have a very solid basis for them. But each one of us should have an opportunity to practice what we like without pressure from others. Of course, it helps when grandparents or parents explain the significance of poojas, rituals or festivals. Without the inherent meaning, the festivity is just noise.

The Fool said...

Thanks, Rachna. I agree with you. I left my story open room for all views. That is the advantage of dialogue form over essay form. Essay form needs to work towards a conclusion while a dialogue form can just give some good for thought but leave things open.

jaish_vats said...

Hmm...For all I know our grandchildren may surely end up residing in Mars ha ha

The Fool said...

I definitely hope so. Hope humans reach for greater heights instead of fighting over what is there on earth.

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