Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Root Cause Analysis

The following is the artcile that I posted to WritersBlend in the month of June when the Leit Motif was "Environment".

It’s a story about those days, not so long ago, when reading was not a hobby but an activity that I would engage in only occasionally. Poetry, painting and drawing had become hobbies of the past. Come weekend and there was plenty of time but nothing to do.
I would pick up my mobile, scroll through the list of contacts and call up friends one after the other. Movie, lunch, dinner? Sometimes, a friend would agree and we would have fun. Other times, I would hear from all of them that they had already made other plans or that they wished to rest at home or that they were bankrupt or …..
So I would sit on my bed all day in a godforsaken PG (paying guest accommodation) and get bored.
One day, unable to stand this boredom any longer, I decided to go shopping all alone.

I went to Commercial street. I bought a white skirt with pink floral prints on it. I ate American corn from one of the makeshift shops. I entered “Westside” thinking I would only window shop. After three hours I came out of the shop with 4 Salwar Kameez suits and a stole in my shopping bag. I bought 3 pairs of earrings from a street hawker. Although I was not hungry, I entered Woody’s and had cauliflower fritters and some “Pesarattu”.

I bought a pair a beige coloured angle boots which would go well with a long skirt. It was 7 PM. I had spent a good 7 hours shopping. I decided to return. I came back to my PG (can’t say “I came home”) and flaunted my purchase to my roommates who exclaimed that the skirt and the suits were so beautiful. I looked forward to that day when I would try them all. I had spent 5000 rupees but what the heck, it was a great weekend.

This was the first of a succession of weekends that saw one after the other, the numerous malls of Bangalore, Brigade road, MG road, some more commercial street, more shopping, more eating and more spending.

It’s been a year now.
The white skirt with pink floral prints has not been tried once for there has been no occasion to wear it. The angle boots are still in the box for I haven’t found a skirt to go with it. I wore the stole only once and I don’t have a matching dress for the earrings that I bought. The cauliflower fritters and “Pesarattu” that I ate in Woody’s were soaked in fat and I really shouldn’t have had them.
In hindsight, the 5000 rupee worth pleasure that the weekend shopping had brought with it lasted only until the next weekend.

How mistaken I was in believing that shopping and spending would help me defeat the feeling of loneliness that engulfed me during those weekends!

Recently, as I watched a famous talk show, I learnt that people buy a lot of things out of compulsion without realising that they are doing it to beat the loneliness in their lives. It is their way of filling up the lacuna or vacuum in their monotonous, uneventful life. Spending time in malls and buying materials keeps them occupied, gives them pleasure (though temporary) and they deceive themselves into believing that their life is very “happening”. It’s a psychology “thing” that has actually been documented.

We forget that material possessions cannot satiate an individual beyond a certain limit. Shopping to kill loneliness is like drinking sea water to quench thirst.

My grandparents in Mysore lived in an antique mansion that sprawls over a piece of land that is 100 by 120 feet in area. She was blessed with 9 children. The other occupants of the house were a brother of my grand mom, 2 children of her sister, my oldest cousins who went to college there and my great-grandmothers.

During the earlier days, the members of the family had to run the household using traditional means and methods. But as days passed by, modern home appliances made their way into the house one by one. The kitchen became equipped with a mixer, a grinder, a heater, a gas stove and a refrigerator. A television set was installed in an empty corner of the hall. All members had agreed upon a list of common programmes and they would assemble in the hall before the TV to watch the same.

Although too many children lived in the house, not too many clothes needed to be bought. As the oldest outgrew his clothes he bequeathed them to a younger one; the younger one bequeathed his clothes to his younger one and so on until finally the youngest one inherited all the clothes in the family as he grew up. And when the youngest brother outgrew his clothes, he bequeathed them to the eldest brother’s son. :-)

One day, a two wheeler and a four wheeler were driven into the courtyard. The vehicles were used to escort the aged and middle aged men and women of the family to places and in case of emergencies.

25 years have passed.

The antique house stands where it stood. Some members continue to live there and some have moved out. There has been proliferation of people as well as property. I am not in close contact with all the descendants but only a few of them.

I will talk about four families who live close by. Two of them are brothers and two others first cousins of the brothers.
In the age of nuclear families, needless to say, they live in four separate mansions. Unlike olden days, even the women in these households go to work. There are just 2 children in each family. Some are recently employed and some go to college. As a reason, for most part of the day the houses remain empty.
But I am told that there are enough occupants even in the empty houses. Although they are small families, each member has a separate bedroom and there are guest rooms too. Each room has a television so that the members may feel free to watch any channel they please unlike those olden days when there used to be conflicting interests and a common list of programmes had to be prepared.
Although people these days have a poor appetite, there are two refrigerators. One for the kitchen and one in the hallway upstairs to store water, chocolates and aerated drinks so that the children don’t have to run down the stairs into the kitchen all the time.

There are two fancy cars and two bikes in each house. All are independent.

While it is good to see such proliferation of wealth and abundance of materials all around, it is saddening to see that in today’s world, the virtue of sharing seems lackluster before the artificial shimmer of “personal space”.

This concept of personal space was unknown to India. It has come from the west. I don’t have anything against it and I enjoy it myself for some part of the day, but as I see it tending towards extremity, I can’t help smiling sardonically at its implications.

People seem to be building walls around themselves. They have acquired layers of protection to shield themselves against their own fraternity. One has to exercise caution even while talking to friends for you may ask a question casually (or even out of concern) and the other person may narrow their eyes and ask “Why do you want to know?”
Husband and wife no longer proudly claim to know each and every thing about one another. There is space between the two of them also!!

The amassing of materials – be it a private two wheeler or a private wardrobe of clothes and accessories, a private car (one for every member of the family), a private room, a personal TV set – is a manifestation on the surface while the actual cause beneath is a mindless chase for privacy and the absence of willingness to share.

Supermarkets and shopping malls.

Cookies, sweet corn, handbags, soft toys, clothes, accessories, cosmetics, footwear, jewellery, furniture, electronics, entertainment, automobiles, real estate and lots of people.

A superfluity of materials. A feast to the eyes. It feels so good to just be in a mall.

But beware. Beware of the crafty salesman behind those counters … You are the guinea pig of his experiments. Even as you enter his shop just to do some window shopping, he is trying all the tactics, tricks and trade secrets he has gained from the newly acquired MBA.

He is out to trap an unsuspecting shopper.
He is constantly thinking about how to get a fat slice of a customer’s wallet.
He is scheming to entice a customer to spend his hard earned money to buy his product whether or not the customer needs it so that he may become richer.

He is a parasite.. feeding on your weaknesses. Feeding on your loneliness, on your aloofness.

If there is a lacuna in your life, he benefits because you will shop more to fill that lacuna.
The lesser you want to share, the more he benefits because that way, you end up buying more.

All of them in the malls thrive on your weakness, on your problems.

But it’s not the salesman’s prosperity I am jealous of, as I write this.
It’s not the “emptiness in peoples’ lives” alone that saddens me nor is it the “diminishing of the virtue of sharing”.

I write this article today, because we are faced with a cause that is above all other causes. A cause that I will call an emergency as it is screaming for attention.

It is the cause of environment. Even as we engage in rhetoric and shout slogans of “Save environment” and “Stop deforestation”, we fail to realise that it is we who are responsible for the state of our environment today, in more indirect ways, than direct.

Why did I talk about weekend shopping and why did I tell you about my grandmother’s family?

To prove a point that our innocent consumption of goods that is caused by factors rooted deep in aspects of psychology and sociology is having implications that actually affect our environment and we are not even aware of this possibility.

Let’s do some quick analysis.
1.All goods available in the market and shopping malls can be classified broadly as those made of either natural substances like wood, cotton, jute, fibre etc. or man made, synthesized substances (there are many).

2.For every natural product that is made, some amount of nature is being depleted. And for every synthesized product that is made, again, an amount of nature is being depleted because the raw material comes from nature, even though it may be as little as a mug of water.

3.The processing requires energy.

4.The processing results in solid, liquid or gaseous wastage to be released to the environment.

5.In the factories that perform the synthesis, man power is being harnessed resulting in an increase in human activity and thus, the environment is warming up .

That was the story of production. Now the story of consumption.

6.A mall has to be built where the goods will be showcased. This mall sprawls over an acre of land which was made level, either by closing a lake or by felling trees that occupied it before.

7.The entire mall is air-conditioned. Needless to say, this consumes copious amounts of energy and releases more chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere.

8.The consumer drives to this mall and more often than not, the vehicle is a large four wheeler. You already know it releases carbon monoxide. It also increases traffic, necessitating the widening of the road for which hundred year old trees lining the road will have to be cut down.

No matter what you consume, a cup of corn, an ice cream, a piece of garment, a handbag, fuel for a vehicle, soft toy, furniture, a home appliance, electricity… be mindful of the fact that it affects the environment one way or the other.

Even a large mansion that you own occupies a large piece of land and can be thought to have encroached into what ought to have been a rice field or a mango groove. Why desire several mansions then?

One may issue or follow a hundred specific rules to protect the environment. I will say just one thing that will summarise all of them. Cut down on consumerism. DO NOT BUY. (Unnecessarily).
It is the only holistic approach to save our environment.

But that sounds a little negative. Isn’t it? If you have read my previous posts (I am not against war, I am for peace) where I talk about the law of attraction, you will think I am contradicting myself here.

So rephrasing it to give it a positive tone, I would say, “Lead a life of simplicity”. Consume only as much as you need. Cultivate good hobbies to spend your time fruitfully, so there will be no room for lacunae in your lives.

Before signing off, I will leave you with these thoughts.

Two things are important in life.
How we live &
What we leave.

For future generations are not simply survivors but also inheritors.


santy said...

You make readers feel your imagination. It was good reading this.

Sowmya said...

Thanks Santosh and do come back....

Claustrophobe said...

Hi Sowmya,
I don’t know if you read comments on older posts but still I wish to write because I read your post just now. : )
They proclaim ‘Customer is King’ and the proclamation is enough to fool this so-called king. By buying unwanted items and spending wastefully the ‘king’ feels he has exercised his supremacy over his ‘subjects’. A little deeper thinking reveals the real picture. Customer if a fool and consumerism is fallacious. Nice post.