The Mint Cities Wrap is a curation of the most compelling stories emerging from our cities today. While the focus is on urban centres, the Mint Cities Wrap engages with wider geographies in the effort to connect stories with each other across places and borders.
The wasteland in the time of drought
Ananda Banerjee’s insightful essay in Mint on understanding semi-arid grasslands, commonly dismissed as wasteland, highlights how an inadequate ecological grasp of the grasslands have exacerbated drought in regions like Marathwada. The effort to convert “wastelands” into economically productive zones through agriculture and misguided afforestation has adversely affected the wildlife and fauna dependent on the barren grasslands as well as threatened the livelihoods of migratory pastoralists. The quiet but powerful role of semantics in policy interventions is brought out here—“To an ecologist or a wildlife biologist, the term ‘wasteland’ is meaningless. Apart from endemic birds, reptiles and small mammals, large carnivores such as wolves and jackals roam in these dry plains and are known to have coexisted with pastoral communities. Indeed, many ecologists will insist that there is no such thing as ‘wasteland’. How authorities approach grasslands—whether they protect them or turn them over to water-intensive cash crops—is crucial to their role in water conservation.”
T.S. Eliot also wrote about the wasteland in 1922. It was a poem called The Waste Land. Beginning with its famous opening line, “April is the cruelest month”, it is one of the most important poems in English literature of the 20th century. The depiction of grassland-like landscape in the poem is harsh and evocative, the verses depicting the inconsolable urge to hear the sound of water, just the mere sound of water, if water itself could not be had. It also has wonderful lines you could apply to unconventional gardening—“That corpse you planted last year in your garden, has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?”
Making the case for a landfill tax
Sunita Narain argues for a landfill tax in the Business Standard. Municipalities across the country are stuck with the problem of unsegregated waste that ends up in landfills. Recent incidents of fires in Deonar, Ghazipur and Bhalswa landfills could be attributed to the unsegregated waste generating the flammable methane gas. Narain proposes the following solution—“The contracts need to be re-designed so that instead of the municipality paying for the waste that is brought to the landfill, the contractor should be made to pay a tipping fee for the waste. In this way, instead of being paid to bring waste to the landfill, the contractor or city municipality would have to pay a tipping fee to dispose the waste.”
Also read this article which tracks a strawberry from a farm to the landfill in an effort to emphasize the scale of the food waste crisis.
Afghani food in Delhi, now fortified with ‘barkat’
There is a beautiful word in Urdu called barkat, which describes the happy abundance one experiences after acts of altruism. A group of Afghani refugees in Delhi is finding refuge through a catering service they’ve been running. The group consists of women who have lost their family members and homes to the violence inflicted by the Taliban, and are now starting lives from scratch in Delhi. Under the guidance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and ACCESS Development Services, the women have organized under the name of ‘Ilham ’ to become self-reliant through cooking. According to one of the women in the group, “This is a time of barkat for us. Things are finally looking up for us and we couldn’t be happier.” Now you know whom to order food from for your next party in Delhi.
Beaten-up buses go guilt-trippin’ in Bengaluru
Violent protests means buses are burnt. The Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation wants to highlight the damage wrought on public property during agitations, so it plans to carry out a procession of buses that were destroyed in such incidents. According to the KSRTC MD, Rajender Kumar Kataria, “In the procession, the buses will ‘ask people what is their fault, why were they targeted’”. The “dead” buses will be displayed at the Kempegowda and Mysuru bus stations. Apparently, there will be some posters that read “RIP”.
From Cairo to Delhi, public space is an ongoing fight
Rami G. Khouri writes in the Cairo Review of Global Affairs about the shrinking public space available to Egyptians for self-expression. The clampdown on the uprising that took place in Tahrir Square in 2011 extends to the media and any form of dissent. In Delhi, on the other hand, we are witnessing a different kind of fight to access public space. The Pinjra Tod movement in Delhi that agitated against the discriminatory hostel rules in Delhi’s universities has received a fillip with the Delhi Commission of Women issuing a notice to 23 registered universities. The Commission has sought answers from the universities on questions related to the restrictions on entry and exit times in hostels, and hostel fees. Neha Dixit, journalist and guest faculty at Jamia Milia Islamia, said, “Hostels need to be designed such that they enhance women’s participation in public spaces, not limit it”.
The origins of Horn OK Please
In 2015, the Maharashtra government issued a circular that banned the phrase, “Horn OK Please”. The government thought it would curb noise pollution in Mumbai. Irrespective of whether the strange measure succeeded in its aims, the ubiquitous “Horn OK Please” has a dubious and colourful history that apparently dates back to World War II. Suspension of disbelief is advised.
T.S. I Eliot You
As a parting shot, a line from T. S. Eliot (again), this time from his unforgettable poem, ‘The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’:
“Do I dare
Disturb the universe?”