One of the most defining moments of my life was when my 6-year-old came home from school. “Amma, we learnt about global warming”. Wow, I thought, turning to her with a big smile thinking this would be the beginning of her life as an eco-warrior, earth-crusader, green-brigader or the countless other things we call each other and our children for simply doing the right and sensible thing. To my dismay, however, she looked frightened and with her upper lip wobbling said… “if global warming comes and the earth explodes, I want to die before you.”
Her fear cut sliced through me, and eight years later as I write this, I can still feel the pain just as keenly.
All my life, like thousands of others, I have done the ‘’right thing” — whether it’s not buying fast food, takeaways, plastic toys, a car, segregating my garbage, refusing my daughter many times things she craves because “it’s not good for the planet”— still, there seems to be not even a glimpse of a better future. Could it because we’re doing it all wrong? Holding ourselves accountable when industries and government get away with zero accountability?
TPP plants all over India have created dystopian landscapes — of white ash on land where nothing can grow anymore. Winds scatter the ash far and beyond. Soiling the water. Clogging the air. Still, alternate energy is a distant dream.
The appetite for wider roads can never be satiated — our roads are still congested despite having sacrificed thousands of homes and farmlands to make them. A robust public transport system is still a pipe dream.
Plastic is ever prevalent — in the form of flimsy bags in spite of so much awareness. In spite of a nationwide clean India campaign.
We create posters. Schools hold poster making competitions. Government makes posters. All end up in a landfill.
Posters do not equal policy.
And however much all of us continue to do the right thing, we cannot win unless industries and the people we vote into power are held accountable.
After the floods that devastated parts of Chennai in 2016, I took my then 9 year old daughter to clean up beaches that were literally filled with all the junk from the city’s blocked drains. When the reservoir water was let out, all the contents of the canal drains were ejected into the sea. Some of it came back to our shores.
After 3 consecutive weekends, when it looked like it would never end, my then 9-year-old firmly said that she was not going to clean up anyone else’s mess. My immediate reaction was to scold her for being selfish and uncaring. Later, I apologized to her. She was right. Why do we demand so much virtue and selflessness from our children when we don’t have the energy to push the people who are meant to serve us?
This Mother’s Day, let’s kiss our children and hold them close. They’re in more danger than ever. Final year medical students may go off on covid-duty while school-age children look at another 6 months of staying indoors without physical contact with their friends, without spending time outdoors. Older teenagers are shouldering the burden of volunteering duties — manning the phone and social media looking for hospitals, oxygen cylinders and even spaces at the crematorium.
Once again, we’re addressing the symptoms of a larger problem — the onus is on us to avoid travel, give up our social lives, wear masks, take the vaccine and always — always do the right thing. While forests are still giving way to mines, trees still chopped for architectural updates, water bodies still drained for development projects.
Let’s never call our children entitled or spoilt again. We’ve stood by and allowed their legacy to burn and now expect them to sacrifice their childhoods and stand on the frontlines.
This Mother’s Day, lets take their cards, their flowers, their lopsided cakes, and misshapen cookies and in return let’s give them the power of our voices, of our reason. We always say that we’ll stand in front of a bus for our kids, right? Well, that bus is hurling along — at top speed — coming for them.
Come, hold my hand. Let’s stand in its path.
(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own. Let Me Breathe neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
(The article was first published on the Warrior Moms blog. Warrior Moms is a coalition of mothers from all over India who have come together to fight against air pollution.)