Solastalgia state of mind

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Adopted without any discussion and passed in a hurry – the Karnataka Urban Development Authorities (Amendment) Bill, 2016 seeks to reduce the area to be reserved for public parks and playgrounds in layouts from the present 15% of the total area to 10%; and further reduce area reserved for civic amenities from the present 10% to 5%… here we go again, sigh!  

When the whole world is bracing for an unforeseen impact of larger fears rooted in insecurities rising from growing terrorism, economic instability, new diseases mutating by the hour and Donald Trump – I sit by the window, contemplating my condition. I didn’t know there was a term for it, until very recently. Like always, language throws a noose to tighten those inexplicable free-flowing morphing emotions – like calling it Solastalgia, in this case! It’s what happens to you when the environment around you is changing at an alarming rate. In other words, it’s the void you feel when landscapes you are familiar with are being transformed by forces beyond your control. It leaves you feeling nostalgic, homesick, unhappy, distressed, and livid of course, against those forces (time lost in mouthing unfathomable curses in 4 different languages). Sigh!

Every day, I spend at least three pathetic, gruelling hours travelling in the city, often dodging stare-offs with grey, menacingly hostile buildings of all kinds. The unwarranted blinking of the eye, a foot that suddenly throws a ‘I want to scoot from here’ fit, to shoulders that sag like a resigned branch of a ficus tree in Jayanagar… what do you know of comatose acknowledgments the body throws at a restless mind…

Anywhere you travel in the city you are constantly reminded of “what once was”. What is shocking is the grand scale at which a lot of what you cherished is being taken away from you – like a favourite playground that brought alive several fond childhood memories, a 60-year-old tree that had one of the biggest buttresses you’d ever seen (you were convinced she secretly owned the street), large sites riddled with all kinds of plants and weed that you sought to hide, scared shitless, yet not wanting to lose the eye-spy game – and the sky, HECK! The sky you obsessed about; thought you owned, all those bright stars, the lovely dark blue-blue sky… so much so, you only preferred open-terrace parties. Now, you are left with the smallest (if you are lucky) pizza slice of a sky that’s pink, yeah, pink! Thanks to all that black smoke.

For the time being, let’s forget the whole “global” scene – development, warming, populations… the anthroposcene era! We are talking about everyday “scenes” here. Simple things like not being able to find comfort in old, familiar places, not finding solace in reassuring canopies that offered protection, the luxury of falling asleep to frog calls – well, none of these happen anymore, simply because they are not a part of our urban lifestyle (or so, they claim!). They are wiped out, discarded and with it, our personal memories and consolation!

I have been travelling to the Bandipur National Park for several years now. Being a sucker for familiar roads and smells, I mostly stick to the Mysore-Nanjangud-Gundulpet route. On the fateful day, I was thrown off-guard – over hundreds of the 60 (odd)-year-old ficus trees skirting over 30kms of the road were hacked off, leaving behind large buttresses at the mercy of local woodcutters. This happened last year and ever since, when I’m on that stretch of the road, I no longer seek stories, whispering winds or the sight of dancing roots teasing the sun. It’s all gone!

This might seem trivial and of least importance, but we need to understand one critical thread that we are missing out here – the biophysical world is interweaved with our very culture, our thoughts, reflections, for crying out loud, it’s a part of us. It’s not enough that it’s taken away, but the very situation has warranted help, but in what form? Like the unfailing paradox of this society that’s so proud of its corrosive comebacks – it has given us more shrinks instead, trying to sell therapy in the name of ecopsychology! Sigh.

As the world rushes past, a few of us continue to hold on, striving to gather our immediate surroundings, or what’s left of it…

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