Have you seen the flowers on the river? 2007 - 2011
These are ‘economic’ times. A meta-narrative of global financial flows and its institutions of capital, technology and markets, have come to define progress and development. At the same time, nature is sending warning signs, as climate change portends the urgent necessity of changing to a more sustainable course, or face doom.
For long, nature has been interrupted, exploited by mass produced commodities. “A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside of us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another,” wrote Marx. Monetary value is key, reflecting its ‘aura’ and desirability, till it become ‘worthless,’ as waste. In this ongoing theatre of aura and decay, are interwoven narratives of people’s struggles, locked in contestations between the powerful and the powerless. This cannot be sustainable.
If ‘economy’ is replaced with ‘ecology,’ new relationships are formed with nature at the centre. Human development has to be re-thought with additional values like ‘equity’ and ‘balance,’ and not merely monetary ones. “Enough to satisfy every man’s need but not everyman’s greed,” wrote Gandhi, speaking of the planet’s resources.
Examples of such practices abound. The flower fields on the river Yamuna have existed in Delhi, for over 200 years, where the river is still clean. Here it is unmarred by the sewage, left to flow by the city which does not realise where its drinking water comes from. The riverbank has rich fertile soil, washed down from the Himalayas by each year’s floods. Farming families have for long cultivated hundreds of acres of marigolds here, without pesticides or fertilizer. The crop is sold in a farmers’ market in Old Delhi, less than 20 km away, between 5 to 11 am each day. Tonnes of flowers exchange hands, to be used in temples, at funerals, or to facilitate film stars and politicians. The economy of the flowers sustains both the land and the people.
However new plans are afoot. As the city, now the capital of an aspirational global nation state re-imagines itself, land hitherto left un-noticed has aquired new ‘value.’ Its prices have shot up, as new plans propose to convert the riverbank into river vistas and river views for the new elite. The ‘old’ farmer’s market too, has been shifted out to make space for the ‘global’ city. The market from being a link to sustainability has become an end in itself. The farmers are caught in a bind as their local economies now have to compete with the global imagination of a future.
The fertility of capital has overtaken the fertility of land.
(This engagement began in 2007, is an ongoing exploration of the river’s ecology in the rapidly changing city of Delhi)