The article which made it to CBSE Text-Book

In 2008, I wrote this article for TerraGreen. I accidental discovered a couple of days ago, that this article has been published in the CBSE Std X , Interact in English, Main Course book. I was neither informed nor was my permission sought since the copyright for the article still lies with me. While I am pleased that something I wrote is being used to educate and inform impressionable young minds, I am a trifle miffed that at the general lack of regard for the rights of a writer. I have written to TerraGreen and plan to contact the CBSE board too. For all those who have been asking, here is the article that made it to the CBSE Std X, English text-book. CBSE.


( Please do not reproduce any part of this without permission. Copyright lies with me)

A look at the naturally formed picturesque rocks in the city of Hyderabad, their importance and what impedes their conservation.

Hyderabad is a bustling metropolis that is striving to be the city of tomorrow. With a heritage that promotes art and architecture, the city offers residents and visitors more than lip-smacking Biryani. Famous around the world for its Nizami past, in reality Hyderabad has moved beyond its rustic image. It is now matching steps with Bangalore for the title of the ITES, IT and BPO mecca of the south. Though the city is dreaded for its dry landscape and fiery summers, people from across the country are arriving here in droves to live/work here or simply to vacation at this retail capital of the south.

But one of the most interesting facets of the city simply happens to be its best kept secret. As you drive across the city, mammoth granite rocks in bewitching poses capture your eye and imagination. Rocks large and small precariously balance on one another to form shapes that mesmerise the mind. To the onlooker these rocks seem to strike poses and imitate life. These rocks, among the oldest in the world, are Hyderabad’s true heritage. Even the mighty Himalayas at 40-60 million years old are younger than these rocks!

Evolutionary tale

What caused these rocks to assume such forms? The answer lies in their creation. When the earth was formed some 4.6 billion years ago, its upper crust was thin. It was only as the earth aged and matured that the crust hardened into a thick layer. Some 2.5 billion years ago, the Deccan plateau comprising hard crystalline rocks began to form below the earth’s crust. Based on the position of these granite rocks, geologists determined that these rocks are intrusive igneous rocks by origin.

Intrusive rocks were formed below the surface of the earth when molten magma lava unable to reach the surface, cooled and solidified below the earth’s crust. As it solidified, these sheets of granites developed horizontal and vertical cracks. Over the following million of years as the earth aged, weathering caused the top country rock to wash away, exposing the granite rocks of the deccan plateau below.

While the evolution of these rocks is fascinating, it is their distinctive form that makes them truly unique. And that is where nature played her part in shaping these rocks. Primarily quartz and feldspar in composition, these granite rocks are grey and pink in appearance. Though they are resistant to erosion, weathering left its mark on the rocks. Known as onion peel weathering, the cracks in the granite once pushed up to the surface of the earth, fell prey to the environmental forces. Changing temperatures, water, wind and other natural forces chiselled away the rocks, leaving behind the fascinating sculptures that can be witnessed today. And it is not just Hyderabad that is home to these magnificent granite marvels. Surrounding districts of Rangareddy, Medak, Mahbubnagar and Warangal too have their share of such stunning rock formations.

Nature’s sculptures

As you gaze at these rocks it is easy to lose sense of place and time. The gigantic boulders inspire creativity and reverence in people, forcing them to look beyond the obvious shapes to create imaginary forms. A puppy seated on its hind legs with its front legs raised in the air, a Santro shaped car, flying saucer resting on rocks, four chambers of the heart, and a woman standing with her face to the breeze; these are just a few shapes that tickle your imagination. It is no wonder then that people have taken to naming certain rocks after the shape they think it resembles or the idea they think it epitomises. Some of these names have stuck on and the rocks have thus become landmarks in the city. And in some other places, rocks with their symbolic shapes have inspired the devout. Natural openings and cave like structures formed by the rocks have been used as temples by locals. Many people even consider them are a symbol of the divine and worship these silent sentinels.

Maintaining ecological balance

Apart from being a visual treat for viewers, these rocks play an integral role in preserving and nurturing the ecological balance of the region. Lakes and ponds have always formed adjoining rocky patches. This is no coincidence but a natural occurrence as rocks help create the natural drainage system of the area. Subterranean passages formed created by these rocks results in the natural flow of rain water to that area, aiding the formation of ponds and lakes and recharging ground water levels.

And where there is green, there are birds and bees. Rocky hills often act as the bio-diversity hub for the area. Prickly thick shrubs and dry deciduous forest ensconce the rocks. Along the lakebeds, tall grass grows in wild abandon. Often even medicinal plants and aromatic herbs are found in the area. And hidden in this medley of plants are insects, birds and reptiles. So don’t be surprised if a Baya weaver flies by or a snake wiggles past you, when you are trekking about the rocks. Fauna and flora of varied kinds thrive in rocky eco-systems. Nature is at its best in these spots and here is where people can go to for a whiff of the wild. But today, such spots are disappearing with alarming alacrity. Rocks are being destroyed indiscriminately; the price the city is paying for growth.

Development at the cost of nature

It is easy to wonder why someone would destroy rocks that are billions of years old. For centuries now these rocks have been the building material for the city. Even the famous Golconda fort of Hyderabad which sits atop a granite hill is made of the very same granite rock. The problem however lies at the speed and magnitude with which these rocks are now disappearing. Just consider the following statistics. The official 2001 census stated the Hyderabad population was around 3.7 million. But today the overflowing buses, traffic jammed streets, and expanding city borders tell a very different story. Unofficial estimates peg the actual population closer to 6.1 million; nearly double of what the Andhra Pradesh government’s website states. Years ago visitors to the city did not have to do much to find these rocks. But today these marvels are becoming a forgotten story. As time passes, this natural legacy is giving way to tall residential high-rises and software parks. Hills are being replaces with malls and buildings.

As the massive inflow of population continues, rocks are being quarried around-the-clock to cater to the exponential boom in the construction industry. Large tracts of land have been approved for residential or commercial use, without taking into consideration what actually lies on the land. The rocks are blown down, land is cleared and the hard crystalline rocks are used as construction material. In the past four years itself, vast stretches of hills around the city’s fringes have been turned to rubble or have completely disappeared. Drive where the development is taking place and an environmentalist’s heart will bleed at the sight of the half quarried, half-eaten mountains.

Growth and development are inevitable and necessary to absorb the growing needs of the economy. But the problem lies in the truth that none of this growth is monitored. Giant machines dig the earth out and transport mud to all corners of the city. Ratty trucks with the broken remains of gigantic rocks can be seen ferrying the roads primarily during dusk or night. Most of this quarrying is illegal. Contractors excavate mud and destroy rocks in remote spots often under the dark cover of night for a paltry sum.

Mass destruction of rocks has exacerbated the depletion of green cover. Precious fauna and flora has been destroyed. Loss of these rocks has meant ground water depletion which has further compounded the city’s water woes. Years ago tiny lakes dotted the entire city including the famous Jubilee and Banjara hills localities. Today lakes are found only on the city outskirts in places like Shamirpet. Lakes closer to the city are shrinking every passing year.

Fighting for Conservation

Though Hyderabad has seen the gradual depletion of rock cover, ecological conservation is an issue that has not found much voice with the population. Most citizens especially those new to the city are too busy focusing on seeing a snazzy Hyderabad finding its spot on the global map. But even in this bleak scenario there is a ray of hope for the rocks. Since 1996, a group of concerned citizens have come together to prevent indiscriminate destruction of the rocks and protect the rocky landscapes. Their organization ‘Society to Save Rocks’ (STSR) has since then been working hard to preserve the rocky ecosystem in the city and state.

Due to their dedicated campaigning, the Government of Andhra Pradesh has added nine rock formations in Regulation No. 13 of the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority (HUDA) for the protection of Heritage Buildings and Precincts. This act of the governments was hailed by conservationists across the country as a great step in recognising the importance of the rocks and the need to protect them. Today Hyderabad is the only city in India where rocks are protected as a natural heritage. Encouraging the government to preserve these rocks by promoting them as tourist attractions is an alternative that the Society is pushing for.

But despite STSR’s dedicated efforts, the city faces a challenge as the government has already sold off much land in and around the city. Durgam Cheruvu one of the designated heritage sites is the best place where the government’s attempt to conservation and apathy towards rocks, are both visible. Years ago the lake lay hidden between rocky cliffs and was inaccessible. A few years ago it was converted to a model tourist spot with boating and other leisure facilities. But entire stretches of hills on one bank of this protected area has been destroyed in the past decade to accommodate the fast-growing Hi-tech city. Durgam Cheruvu thus epitomises the ongoing conflict between development and protection in the city.

However some individuals have successfully managed to integrate rocks that abut their house into the structure of their homes. The rock forms as much a part of their home’s interior as does their sofa or any other furniture. Some builders and companies too have taken the initiative to include rocks in their building complexes. While they have included a natural rock structure within their building premise, their focus remains on decorative appeal rather than ecological consideration for the rocks.

Over the years, due to the efforts of organizations like the STSR the rocks of Hyderabad have found a voice. But the din of the construction industry and growing needs of an expanding city are far louder than the voice of these few individuals. What the rocks require are greater public support and a deeper appreciation of their existence. Locals, tourists and governments need to take a pro-active approach to ensure that growth includes preservation of rocks and their eco-systems. After all if a booming economy overtakes billions of years of nature, the consequences and blame will be have to be borne by none other than the citizens themselves for the only people who stand to gain will in reality be the ones who lose.

Dedicated to POL

Power of Love ( POL) foundation, has been one of the organizations I most admire. Of course it may also have a lot to do with the fact that I was fortunate enough to meet and know Suresh Subramaniam, executive director of POL. He is one of the most gentle and yet fiercely passionate person I have known. Today I just browsed the POL website after long and realised how much they have been doing. Their circle of love keeps expanding.

Suresh also is an amazing photographer. He photographs people's souls. I have always been moved by the pictures he takes. 3 years ago, I was moved by this photo and had written this poem and showed it to Suresh (I am glad he didnt laugh). In my own tiny way its my tribute to the children, AIDS orphans who still bring tears to my eyes. I so wanna do something for them.

Do my eyes seem different to you?
I feel they shine even now
All fear to come hold my hand
Are scared to come, sit by my bed
I wander into the streets and they scream
My HIV, they fear will catch them
I love to run, I want to play tag
Go to that pond and wash all the comments away.
But, I am banished from the pond
What if she infects it with her germs, they whisper?
I remember the shadow of my mother
Remember her smile
Her touch as she wiped my nose with her frock
The noise of dinner that were her songs
Today I wait patiently in this orphanage
Many my age, are too tired to play
I love the window, love the tree
Maybe tonight the fairy will come kiss me.

Being inspired and doing good

There is so much that inspires me. So many people that I see on the TV or read about or have had the fortune to meet. People who in their simple ways have created profound impacts.

Recently on oprah, (an old rerun) they ran a show about women you must know. Featured it in was Sabriye Tenberken. Blinded at the age of 12, she stood as a stellar example of what moral fire can do. While studying for her masters she helped develop a Braille script for Tibetian. And then at age 26, she went alone to Tibet and set up the first ever school there for blind children, travelling across the country alone. She has helped establish Braille Without Borders, a NGO that works in Tibet and is in the process of establishing an International school in India to train blind people to help establish their own organizations for people with blindness and other disabilities.

It was just so wonderful watching her speak on Oprah. She spoke for all of two minutes and they featured her organization for about 5 minutes. But it was enough to make me admire tremendously her gut and instinct. Faith can work wonders. All you need to do is believe. But isn�t that what we let go off firstly? We stop believing in ourselves and it is from that juncture, when you stop believing in the possibility of the potential within you that life goes haywire. All other actions are justified on the basis on that disbelief in your own inherent potential.

But does it truly matter if you impact one life or one million? Does it gain you more good karma if you give more good to people you don�t know rather than your own people? Is it more important to go through your life not harming anyone or anything or is it more important to do something in your life that positively changes thousands or maybe just tens or hundreds of lives. How do people figure this out? Me, I am still trying to find my path. Meanwhile all I can do is to ensure I am true to me, good to the people around me and do my utmost for the ones I love and whom I have the opportunity to serve. But some strange restlessness prevails, always does. Watching people like Sabriye and my CF friends though makes me believe, in me and in the potential of others.

When your life changes

Do you change with it?

The answer for many is an obvious yes. But I beg to differ. It isn�t always so. When I got married and my life changed overnight, I wasn�t ready to change myself and accommodate everything new that life had brought to my doorsteps. I wasn�t ready for the new country, new city, new food habits, new lifestyle habits, new people, new prejudices, new fears and even new love. So everything around me moved in a whir and I stubbornly remained mournful and aloof. Refusing to change with the world around me..

I don�t know how and when but I realised the futility of what I was doing and how unhappy it made me. I changed myself internally and began to love what life had presented me with. Of course I didn�t have the time to get too comfortable with US, the Fremont county library, Lake Elizabeth or the wondrous San Francisco, life changed yet again and we came back to India. Rampaging endlessly between Pune and Bombay, I landed at Hyderabad. Some more changes and another job and then again changes!

There seems to be no such thing as constant in my life. But I am determined now to even learn to enjoy the butterflies in my stomach and the fear I fight when I encounter change. But this time I am enjoying the thrill of new found love, of a work I have been eager and restless to do for eons.

Am changing jobs, from Information and Communication technologies for Development to only communications- my area of strength and passion. Only now I get to finally work with an NGO which believes in advocacy as much as I believe in my words. Something I have wanted to always do but never got the chance too.

Come Saturday, I start work at the Foundation for Democratic Reforms � popularly known as the Lok Satta Movement (no, not the newspaper folks), founded by Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan. weblink for Lok Satta is here.

Am restless, am excited, am nervous all at once. Something tells me this is a chance for me to learn. That I am somehow treading closer to what is ultimately going to change something inside me forever. If NISG was an eye-opener to government and its potentials, possibilities, as well as the inherent dormancies, bureaucracies and powerplays, Lok Satta I am hoping will finally help me to work with the focus being in governance reforms. It is I believe like poking a lazy elephant with a needle, initially it may not even feel the needle, but when you stab it again and again at the same point with a needle it may finally feel something sore and then the pinch.

Lok Satta fascinates me because for once rather than telling people I am here what can I do for you, it will give me the chance to tell people, you know what to do, let me help you realise your own potential. It is teaching a man how to fish and not feeding him for life.

Whose responsibility are they?

On the Banjara Hills road which goes towards Hitech City, at Hyderabad, there is entertainment to occupy your attention while the traffic signal turns red. Some street children, some of them remarkably fair and beautiful (which makes Satya think they might be from up north), have taken to performing acrobatics on the street. They park themselves in front of vehicles as soon as the signal turns red and do somersaults or wiggle their hands behind their backs in weird ways. I dislike giving money to children, biscuits and food passing being better options in my head. Last week I dug my hand into my purse to find any change but couldn�t manage to get any before the signal turned green. Yesterday I gave two delighted kids, Rs.4 they scampered off with.

I remember the kids at Hamara Club in Bombay Central. Run by TISS, the visit to their centre had been part of my social volunteerism course. They had been overjoyed at the attention, as all kids usually are. There was little to distinguish them visibly from regular kids for they all looked like kids who had been out in the sun playing for long on a dusty day. But their tales set them apart. Leaving home because Mummy scolded, no food at home anyway, the 3 yr old twins who refused to go home, one who�d like to but cant remember home as he was too young when he left, with blackened knees and cracked skins, they had worn their best. They showed their paintings and boasted about their wounds. Look said one tot, pointing to a wound on his leg, 26 worms came out. He gladly mistook my look of shock and disgust for one of hero worship, and whispered to his pals that Didi thinks its mast. They smoked bidi and sniffed glue for addiction to kill hunger. 90% of them worked in the long-distance trains that plied from Mumbai Central. They roamed the world like they didn�t care, but always came back here. I had left with promises I�d go back instead I wrote a story that lies unpublished in my comp like all my other short stories.

Suresh always sent me pictures each time after he returned from Africa. I felt good while I volunteered for Power of Love (POL), I was getting to do what I wanted, my bit for the AIDS orphans. More than the elders I have always worried about them. Life ends before it begins for them, I thought. Then after POL realised that it doesn�t have to be so. Sub-Saharan Africa shook my soul. The situation in India scared me. Today we are not far behind. I wrote poems about those children (which are also lying unpublished in my comp).

Some of those children on the street will be AIDS orphans, wont they? But why am I thinking of all these kids now? I know, its because I am disgusted with myself, not them. As strongly as I feel about doing something for children apart from a few stray interactions and donations I am not doing much. And I feel guilty deep down for it. But thankfully above the emotion good sense prevails, I know I have time, I am only 25 now. I dont know if its my responsibility or no? But I feel like its mine. And your. And everyones. To do something for the,m in whatever capacity. I know, this is a burden, I won�t die carrying.

(Girls in the pics are students of Primary students at Patepuram,West Godavari District,Andhra Pradesh,India)

Speaking Out

A conference I attended earlier this year was filled with people from varied backgrounds, all of whom were present to speak, share, talk and discuss their views and thoughts on gender and the information society. It was the first of the kind seminar that I had attended and was suitably impressed by much of the discussions and the people I met. I expressed my desire to many about contributing more in whatever capacity to the sector and my views were enthusiastically received. Till I realised all were just nodding their heads and following a much followed routine. Smile condescendingly at the bubbly upstart and send her off to someone else to talk to.

The development sector hampers much on upliftment of the downtrodden, removal of poverty, catering to the marginalization, improving governance etc etc. And in the process it marginalizes and ignores many educated citizens (not necessarily in English) who may nurture the desire to be a part of the growing momentum of change. Opportunities for new-comers into this sector are few. You can weave your way in but only if you have an academic education to back or gleefully indulge in idol worship. It is without doubt the domain of a selected few who circulate the same message in various conferences around the country and globe. The role of such leaders who possess a higher vision and policy approach cannot be disregarded but the pride and ego that accompanies their activities is quite hard to swallow. The influx of information and communication technologies for development has become another sector within the arena for development that has a few who talk about the poor and laugh with the rich. Rich maybe not monetarily, but rich in words, work and mostly friends.

Sadly the civil society is being represented by a select few who do not speak the language of the laypeople. Reading a normal project communication document or proposal can be an affair that truly tests your brains. The sector is currently all about networking and proving your mettle, but mostly your point. The educated citizen in reality has got lost in this struggle between the torchbearers of civil society and those who cannot afford oil for a lantern.

Where does that leave us citizens who are watching it all but are unable to do anything? Licking our wounds? Isn�t it time we decided to be recognized as a part of this civil society? Or does the civil society only consist of the academic and monetary doers and the mute rural receivers?

No I am not against this sector. In fact I am part of it. But what I�d like to do is actually contribute instead of just expressing the desire. But unless I start my own organization, I don�t see how I can do anything. And maybe that is exactly why there are so many NGO�s? Not only are there millions who need support and encouragement but also thousands who are not finding anyone who hears their voice. Hundreds who possess the desire to reach beyond themselves but who do not find a forum where ideas are not only shared but also aided to reach fruition.

Its time we move beyond working in isolation. Its time we actually shared and encouraged and not just spoke about the need for partnerships. Forging connections does not differentiate between whom the connections are being forged with. Its time half the country who are labelled as youth are made part of the process. Inclusion needs to be redefined, digital divide needs to be redefined for now the exclusion has begun even among the educated among the society.

Who is going to create this change? Not you and me, but we. We can start by speaking out. No matter if all you say doesn�t make sense. Just speak out, and demand to be part of what is being done in your name, for you, be it by the government or development sector.

The paradox: Development sector does development?

There. Finally even Satya has accepted that I am an idealist. I expect honesty and integrity and a dash of ethical behaviour in my area of work and workplace. More often than not this is unrealistic in today�s world!

Increasingly I am offended and disturbed by what goes on in the name of Social Development. If I have to succeed I have to either suck up to everyone, or speak in a language no one understands eg:- Language of development is a parlance that the general public is not familiar with. Thus arises the need for promulgation of grassroots advocacy in a patois that the civil society can understand.

Ok that was a poor attempt. And, yes, now you know why I cannot be a part of the development sector. I can never ever cook up a sentence like that. Sometimes I want to devote my whole life to the cause of simplifying the language used by development sector and governments. I put up a tough fight every time at work and am glad I win sometimes.

But my dears, that is the success of being someone people know and think of as great. A very sensible woman I met in one of the workshops (among the few who actually do good work told me a very interesting thing: Write so no one understands what you have written and speak or write verbosely on controversial topics so people don�t know what you are talking about. It sounds good and so is good. This I have noted time and again I true.

Sometimes I believe the corporate sector with its open discriminations, prejudices and sometimes activities is by far better. At least the pretence is not there. Sustainable development, pro-poor development and many such popular key-words are used indiscriminately. You talk about solutions for people without taking them into the dialogue process. Oh yes dialogue process are there, haven�t you seen the mega- conferences on which lakhs are spent. But where are the people you are talking about? Power, monetary or administrative brings with it, a thought, �I know� and the moment this starts, all is lost. Most projects money never really reaches the person whom it is meant for.

God, I am tempted to write about so much more in this blog. There is so much more I want to say. If only I didn�t have these stupid values I carry inside. But a lot of what I see out there disappoints me. But I also want to do some work that makes a difference to someone. That day will hopefully not be very far away. I am so eager to get back to freelance writing/editing and working for the development sector part-time. I need to find people who really mean what they say and who do what they say. I know that this middle path is the best. I am really not meant to work full time anywhere. If I only write am unhappy, if i only work in the Development sector – all the accompanying nonsense makes me unhappy. So I am going to do both.

Someone give me a job!