Municipal Commissioner Sir,
As per news, you have just visited an alpine lake-city to learn about mosquitoes that torment our hot city built on the edge of a desert. As mosquito menace has been almost the raisond’être of my column, I am glad you have made this trip.
Interestingly, I am writing this from Chitawan, a Himalayan Terai region that has a great story to offer on what mosquitoes can do to a society. Tarai was so badly infested by mosquitoes that a British observer from the eighteenth century noted that, “Plainsmen and Paharis generally die if they sleep in the Terai before November 1 or after June 1.”
Tharu people native to this region enjoyed a unique exclusivity to land because living alongside mosquitoes, they had evolved almost seven times more immunity to malaria than rest of us. Unfortunately for Tharus, Geneva-supported DDT arrived in Chitwan in 1960s and drastically reduced mosquito infestation. This allowed outsiders to “invade” the locality in large numbers and change the social dynamics completely.
While Chitwan is one region that had its fate linked with mosquitoes, we in Ahmedabad are getting there and getting there very quickly, so I have one request to you as a guardian of Ahmedabad.
I am sure that Geneva conference must have been really informative, so you may find my request slightly strange, but the real learning from Gevena for us in Ahmedabad is that we should stop learning from Geneva. This is one request I have been making to urban planners of not just Ahmedabad but India, but have failed so I would like to try it with you.
I request all bureaucrats in India to do one simple thing. Alongside the map of the region under your governance, you should also put up a map of the world in your office.
Whenever politicians or foreign-educated urban-planners walk into your chamber with desire to “build international class infrastructure” and propose ideas like BRTS or riverfront development or “save urban lakes” crusade, please take a pen and make a straight line across the world map aligned with the region under your governance.
In case of Ahmedabad, it is simpler for you to make this line as we are sitting almost bang on the tropic of cancer. This line across the globe will show you other regions of our planet with matching climate and ecology.
Now you check if there is any other place on Earth that is aligned with your location having such an idea implemented. For example, if you look at hundred odd world-cities having BRTS, you will discover that hardly one is made in a city that has 40 C plus temperature for nearly 3 months, as walking would be impossible in such a climate.
If we return to the core subject of mosquitoes, the wisdom from planet Earth is really worth looking at. Let us realise that there is hardly any country with a dense population (other than Egypt) that share our climatic predicament. We are sitting on the desert band of Earth where great Sahara is the only large landmass aligned with us.
The truth is, we have little to learn from the first world as none of the developed nations that we love to borrow urban planning wisdom share our climate or ecology. The biggest mistake we have made till now is to import alien ideas without understanding the climatic and ecological context.
What we really need to do is to build our own repository of wisdom by finding our own truths. The first world may have great ideas to offer but the blind implementation of them is unlikely to solve our local problems.