It was a Greenpeace call for entries for a photo exhibition that prompted me to write this post. It was an unusual call for photos - the organisation wanted photographs on Soils and Survival, which is indeed by any parametre not a run of the mill idea/theme for a photo-exhibition.
Before this I had come across, and participated in, photo-competitions of all kinds, almost everything under the sun, - Humanizing Development, the Millennium Development Goals, woman/women, Delhi, nature and wildlife, weddings and marriages, flowers, portraits, street photography, and so many more that I cannot recall. Not many of such competitions forced me to think - I either had photos or I did not have. In profounder words - I was either interested or I was not in some of these themes and calls for participation.
So, participating in this Greenpeace exhibition on 'soil' set me scratching my head, though it still did not make me grip my equipment and shoot soil, sand, earth, ground, land, rocks, stones, hills, vegetation, grass, fields, crops, farmers, earthworms, cows, goats or cowdung... I just scratched my head and thought off all those photo-shoots that I had either participated in or, sometimes, had led in Delhi.
Scratching the head helped. I recollected and recalled that I had unknowingly, maybe unwittingly clicked earth so many times during such shoots. And then I began to scrutinise the deep forgotten recesses of my hard drives to successfully unearth dozens of photos on soil and related subjects.
My joy was unbound.
The variety was, as the English would say, not bad at all. I had anthills (fantastic work of architecture using local construction materials), insects (one flouroscent beetle trying out climbing on a sapling), butterflies holding a long lunch-hour meeting (much like NGOs), tiny islands of earth in Delhi's green spaces (in the middle of smelly sewage water from plush Delhi residences), ancient rocks from Rajasthan, fallen flowers, dried leaves, rotting stems and much more (all the right ingredients for a healthy soil), though I found no earthworms.
My job was done. A few of those entries passed the Greenpeace muster, were blown up and dutifully highlighted at the exhibition.
But I was amazed to notice how an abstract competition trigger a chain or thought or light up creativity. The soil of our country, it seems, is unwell these days. Fed with an overdose of chemicals - fertilisers as well as pesticides - it is on the sick bed. The microbes in the soil have died and the earthworms are disappearing. The chemicals have killed them all.
The farmers, despite their traditional knowledge and farming systems, have dumped the age-old farming practices of soil and nature friendly farming in favour of government subsidies that promote chemical fertilisers; corporate marketing gimmicks that spread out the chemicals to the remotest of farms and crops that bring in the moolah. But all this has happened at the cost of soil health and declining productivity - inspite of additional doses of fertilisers.
Funny isn't it how, in the rat race to push growth rates, we close our eyes to extraction machines in forests, chemicals in soil, sewage in rivers and pollution in air?
On that note, I wonder what is happening to our food? What are we eating these days? Genes of coachroaches, bugs, reptiles, insects... ?