16 Apr 2017 17:13 IST

Give me some elbow room here

What happens when we drag our baggage across spaces big, small and sundry

In the dark times

will there also be singing?

Yes, there will also be singing.

About the dark times.

- Bertolt Brecht (German poet, playwright, theatre director)

So yes, there’s been singing and dancing at the highest party in the world. Literally. On April 10, two-time Grammy-winning DJ Paul Oakenfold performed with his band at the Everest base camp. He entertained some 100 mountaineers togged up in full climbing gear at a height of about 5,350 metres. In November 2015, the Finnish band Ancara and sign rapper Signmark and his voice, Olli Hartonen, performed at Dingboche at a height of 4530 metres. Signmark is speech and hearing impaired, so he sings in sign language. The ticket proceeds in both instances were intended for relief and reconstruction work following earthquakes.

Seems ironic. Simulating an earthquake-like situation — booming sounds bouncing off mountainsides, feet pounding the earth — in order to raise funds for the earthquake-affected. That’s how rock concerts usually sound — earthquake-ish. What with the hordes of would-be mountaineers ‘assaulting’ Everest every season, the Himalayas must be on pretty shaky ground already, not to speak of the piles of garbage that’s been left lying around there, and the ‘I was here’ signs spiked into various summits.

Surreal experience

Last June, Greenpeace organised a performance by the Italian composer and pianist, Ludovico Einaudi, in the Arctic. He performed on an ice floe floating on the ocean, his arpeggios and crescendos punctuated by the thunder of ice breaking off from surrounding icebergs and crashing into the water. Watching this surreal concert on YouTube was thrilling and chilling. The Beauty and the Aftershock.

In both instances I am sure every precaution was taken to preserve the safety and sanctity of the environment, or at least every possible precaution. Many years ago there was a move to hold classical music concerts at Tiger Cave, a rock-cut temple complex near Mahabalipuram, some 30-odd km from Chennai. I remember how annoyed some people were when the Archaeological Survey of India disallowed the event at the last minute.

It was the same with the Natyanjali dance festival at the Nataraja temple in Chidambaram. Here’s where are carved the 108 karanas or poses of Indian classical dance. The first Natyanjali was held in the aayarangaal mantapam, the thousand-pillared hall. It was a magnificent three nights of performances by dancers such as Yamini Krishnamurthy, the Dhananjayans, Chitra Visweswaran… the entire town of Chidambaram had gathered to watch. It even rained and the curtain of rushing water falling between dancer and spectator spun sheer magic that night. But from the following year onward, the festival was shifted outside the aayarangaal mantapam. Again, people grumbled.

Predator turned prey

But the tigers of Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand and their habitat are not as lucky. The reserve draws tourists by the hordes — noisy, messy, uninformed groups only out to have a good time. And the definition of a good time? Food and booze. And no leaving the place without sighting the tiger. Hundreds of resorts have sprung up around the park, blocking the tigers’ path to the Ramganga river. These magnificent creatures are no longer kings of the forest there, they are the prey, and the hunters are relentless.

I remember going to Nal Sarovar way back in 1979. It’s a bird sanctuary some 60-odd km from Ahmedabad in Gujarat. It attracts over 210 species of migratory birds in winter. There were birds alright, the day I visited, but mostly of the human kind, spilling over boats plying up and down driving away the bird-birds brave enough to hang around the human-birds’ menacing presence and loud ways. And the music. Of course, always the filmi geet. Besides, there’s also always the afterparty garbage.

It’s not like there aren’t signs everywhere requesting quiet, cooperation, no littering. But who’s reading? Which begs the question: Can they?

Expensive affair

Take Diwali. Over the years, firecrackers have become more expensive, and awareness campaigns have highlighted both the plight of the young workers in the firecracker business in Sivakasi and the ill-effects of smoke and noise pollution. Admittedly, these have become dampners to the general jollity of the season in which all sense is eschewed and money literally goes up in flames. Everything happens on the streets, never mind who else is on the streets. Babies, old people and dogs no matter. Perhaps there was a time when there were far fewer people about and it didn’t hurt anyone to celebrate out on the streets. But today, it’s a sound and light show of no mind. In the best traditions of Indian culture, the streets are left in an inalienably as is where is condition.

Tell me, why should somebody else be cleaning up after our mess? Even if they’re being paid to do so. It doesn’t give anybody the right to filthy up places deliberately and then expect others to mop up.

The same could be said of protests and processions. Holding up traffic. Strewing the streets with flowers from a funeral cortege. The urination and the defecation. The cooking and the cavorting. Why should others be forced to find their way through this, or breathe in belching exhaust fumes because of this? The actions impact the basic nature of sand on the beach, trees on the roadside, the air we breathe, our groundwater or what little of it that remains. Some months ago, I publicly supported a well-intentioned and well-organised concert on the beach. Now, I don’t think so. There’s far too much at stake, both actually and virtually.

We need designated spaces for large group activities, be they music concerts or celebrations or whatever. It’s just not on to take over one exotic space after another in order to attract eyeballs. I would like to have the freedom to go to the beach, sit on the sand and contemplate the surge and thrust of the waves as the wind plays its songs in my ears… undisturbed and in silence.

Since protest is intrinsic to freedom, can we think up more environmentally friendly ways of collective expression and action?