“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
Picture Credit: http://festivalsadvices.com/makar-sankranti-festival-information/