Clear the air

It is time to say this. The epidemic and the enforced lockdown continues to show what a strange universe we had locked ourselves into. The walls we had built around our complicated social and economic world have collapsed and through these gaps we can see new possibilities. When we build up again, there will be a push to instantly return to what we had earlier, but it will be good for us to see how flimsy the supporting arguments were.

The air is so clear ten days after the beginning of the lockdown that from the rooftops of Jalandhar one can see the high Himalayas. We’d driven through this city almost two years ago, when we spent a week in the lower Himalayas. Passing through the traffic snarled up in the city I never realized that we were only 450 Km from Srinagar in Kashmir. This air can be kept clear. Change from oil to electric. Electric scooter technology is cheap and widely available. Just the will to change the tax structure to favour a new industry is lacking. Autos on the road are another major polluter, but changing their two-stroke engines to battery would be another step towards clean air. It can be done at a cost much smaller than the lockdown.

Dolphins on Marine Drive in Mumbai! Whales visiting the oil rig at Bombay High! These are not fake videos. We saw different dolphin videos taken by a lot of people, from a lot of different angles. So this we can be take as verified. Just one day of reduced noise pollution in the sea brought dolphins into Backbay. That’s not something I’ve seen written about even in the literature from a century ago. The incidental conversation in the whale video indicates that this is probably not fake. We will not be able to recover this perhaps, because the world’s supply chain moves through the seas. On the other hand, I know some extremely good engineers, and they should be able to put their minds to lowering the noise made by ships, if they can make a living doing it. After all, energy lost to noise is produced by burning fuel, so less noise is an incremental increase in efficiency. In any case, it is good to see how quickly nature can begin to reclaim the earth.

Peacocks dancing through the streets of Mumbai! Who would have thought! I didn’t even know there were peacocks left withing the city. That’s hope for the future. We do have small green lungs in the city. I hope videos such as this give people a reason to hope that planning for more patches of greenery will help preserve these wonders right here, next to our homes. I think a lot of small patches with trees will help.

Away from the big bad city, one has seen videos of elephants roaming through the streets of small towns. That may not be to everyone’s liking. There is a growing body of scientific thought that says that the increasing instances of new diseases, SARS, MERS, Zika, Ebola, and COVID-19, is due to human activity encroaching on parts of the world which were the natural range of other species. It sounds reasonable, because the new diseases are not coming from the already-dead lands of Europe and the US. They are arising in parts of the world where there are ancient ecosystems newly destroyed. We have known for years that human-elephant conflict is due to us taking over their land. Now perhaps we are facing bigger threats as we take over new ecologies.

Enough of a Sunday sermon. Let me end with this wonderful video of a fawn of the spotted deer, Cheetal, galloping in the waves of the Bay of Bengal. The video is verified to come from Puri, that famous temple town and beach resort. What a wonderful sight! I cannot go out to see wildlife right now, but it is coming in to see us today.

Pigeon Island

It was a windy afternoon as I strolled on the sea face next to the Ataturk Bulvari in Kusadasi. When The Family proposed visiting Pigeon Island, my inclination was to go back to the hotel and have a long hot coffee instead. So this story of Pigeon Island comes from her. The Island contains a sea fort which dates from the 16th century CE, when the Ottoman empire was vying with other European powers for control of the Mediterranean. The walls around it were built in the 19th century. A causeway joins the island to the shore, and it is studded with piers.

This is part of the port of Kusadasi, which, after the decline in commerce in the 19th and 20th centuries, has regained some importance as a port of call for tourist ferries plying the Greek islands. We’d seen these immense ferries come and go. At the time that The Family visited the island, none of these giants were moored there. That made it easier to take photos of the small two-masted sail boats moored at the piers on the causeway. In our search for things to do around Kusadasi, we didn’t come across the possibility of hiring sailboats.

Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha, whose statue can be seen in the fortress, was the Ottoman admiral whose victories gave the Ottoman empire its dominance in the Mediterranean during most of the 16th century CE. He was also instrumental in forging an alliance with France. even in a history filled with great navigators and admirals, his success is quite outstanding. His statue is appropriate here because he was responsible for putting a sea-fort on this island.

The fort itself is a little museum to Ottoman sea power in the Mediterranean. There are rusting cannons on the battlements, and a small tour through the fort which left little impression on The Family. What she came back with was an impressive photo of the skeleton of a whale which had been washed ashore. Once you see the skeletal remains of the pentadactyl flippers, you cannot mistake a whale for a fish. I hadn’t thought of the Mediterranean as a sea where cetaceans could be found, but after seeing this photo I recalled stories of ancient Greek sailors being helped by dolphins. On checking up, I found that there are eight cetacean species in the Mediterranen Sea. Maybe on another trip we will try to spot some of them.