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   Prashanto Banerji - Features Editor - The Sunday Indian
Prashanto Banerji
Features Editor - The Sunday Indian
[12 Aug 2007]

Thought for food?

I’m a proud, badge-bearing member of the ‘green brigade’. And if you can’t afford a house in any of the Beverly Hills that lie between Haryana and Hollywood, maybe you ought to be one too. You see, originally, the green in the brigade stood for envy. We couldn’t afford the houses we wanted, the cars we fantasized about or the social perks that accompany those who drive around in them. Shunning the materialism we desired but couldn’t afford, we reverted to discussing the conjoined virtues of Marxism and Buddhism, sneering in public and salivating in private at the bourgeois comforts of ACs, CDs and brand new Maruti 800s. And we thanked our stars for having been born after the A-ha and Madonna generation who made clothes that were falling apart fashionable. The only other recognisable pop figure of sorts till that time whose clothes resembled ours was Chunibala Devi, whose desperately poor, 80 year old character in Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali wore sarees that looked like the first and last chapati I ever made – badly burnt, with gaping holes, and frayed at the edges - hardly a teen-aged cult figure, you’ll agree.

Environmentalism soon overtook every other subterfuge though. Small cars for instance, suddenly seemed justifiably better than the big cars we couldn’t afford. I , and many others of my generation looked at this new ism, as a convenient mask for our desires and insecurities. But an assumed superficial image often conspires with circumstances and becomes life’s driving force – the shell becomes the tortoise. As we dug deeper and searched harder for more convincing connections with this new ‘green’ brigade, we became increasingly convinced of an impending doom. Initially, all that seemed threatened was human morality and ecological diversity. The brigade volunteers ranted and raved in seminars and journals, became career environmentalists, authors and charming bummers. Some species loss was averted, at least for a while but the vast majority of the population still seemed to regard us with a sense of pity and mild irritation, the type usually reserved for a senile neighbour, even as they continued to drive around in monoxide spewing public and private transport and choke drains, dustbins, cows and everything else with an opening with plastic bags and garbage. They built malls, factories, apartments and dams over arable land, forests and lakes believing that the green revolution, genetically engineered crops, pesticides and Mcdonald’s would keep us fed forever. And then, like Godzilla, the spectre of global warming rose and nothing seemed certain any more.

Forget about melting polar caps, retreating glaciers and the Poseidonic wrath of tsunamis and hurricanes. Global warming and its agents have begun to threaten the very food on our tables. The rice bowls of the world aren’t spilling over any more. In South and Southeast Asia, rice production is slowly but steadily declining and prices are rising. Droughts and floods have been affecting various corners of the world, often in unison. But though times are bleak, there is hope yet. Long ago, in Paramhamsa Yogananda’s spiritual classic – Autobiography of a Yogi, I had come across an intriguing sepia toned photograph of Giri Bala, the famous non eating saint who claimed nourishment from astral light. More interestingly, in a relatively recent book, I came across the claims of a 50 year old Australian who calls herself Jasmuheen - the ‘breatharian’, and says that she hasn’t eaten a morsel of food ever since 1993 and that she survives on ‘pranic nourishment’. Equally astonishing was the story of Hira Ratan Manek. I had heard of him at a Surya yoga seminar, where one of the yogis was talking about how various medical agencies have studied Mr. Manek’s ability to nourish himself and stay without solid food for months. Can these individuals possibly be living testimonies to the unlimited potential of the human body? Is their ability to live without eating an example of one of the many ‘siddhis’ promised in yogic texts like Patanjali’s sutras? Both Jasmuheen and Mr. Manek claim to have acquired their ability after undertaking a rigorous transformational process which trained their body and mind. It is a tempting thought that not just the famines of today but even the terrible prophecies about the global warming induced agricultural catastrophe of tomorrow would be far less cataclysmic if more and more amongst us could resort to breatharianism.

But there’s a pesky fly in the ointment that threatens to crash this food-free party. Both Jasmuheen and Hira Manek have so far failed in their attempts to prove beyond doubt the authenticity of their claims, and while especially the former has many followers, a handful actually starved to death while fasting. Personally, I wouldn’t discount the possibility and the idea is surely worth chasing, but choosing jute bags over plastic and chick peas over chicken while recycling and cycling might be a more comfortable and a more realistic route towards protecting the planet and our future.

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