06 September, 2009


Sushma Joshi

September 6: This morning, I heard a series of frantic mewing coming from tree foliage twenty feet up in the air. I walked under the thick bouganville, but couldn’t locate the plaintive meows. Then I saw it—a black and tan kitten caught midway in the fork of a straight and bare tree trunk. Its okay, get down now, I said. Motivational speaking, funnily, works on freaked out kittens caught on branches as well as it does on California’s residents. The kitten, heeding my Chicken Soup for The Soul talk, grasped the smooth branch with two paws and slithered down. Halfway down, it balked. Just a few feet now, I intoned in my best Deepak Chopra voice. Then it was down.

At first, it didn’t want to come close and hid underneath the car. As I walked towards my garden, it followed me. Now it was miaowing plaintively. Ah, hungry cat. Maybe it would be useful in keeping the garden rats, spectacularly big and destroyers of my bamboos, at bay. I went into my kitchen and cut a piece of cheese. The tiny kitten struggled with the solid food. Just as it was swallowing the last piece, my dog, wagging his tail, pleased as punch, bounded into the garden. Before I could respond, it had chased the cat up a wall. Stop! I yelled. The dog, abashed, skulked back. The kitten, trapped in a high place, cried with woe. I chased out the dog and locked the garden gate, threatening him with dire reprisals if he dared to attack. As this was going on, our second dog bounded up and started fighting with the first. The two clueless canines annoyed the hell out of me. If you two make me lose my newfound feline, I’m going to be really mad, I threatened them. The dogs looked at me and wagged their tails. Their job, to protect their food dishes, was their primary concern. No kitten was gonna lick up their protein tidbids.

Half an hour later, the kitten was happily washing its face by me with its furry tongue. He soon commenced to rub himself along my legs, convinced he’d found a champion. Before I knew it, he was snuggling in my arms. I looked at it in resignation. Not another animal to feed! My plans to turn him into a sleek, rat-eating predator, it seems, was to be subverted by his plans—to be a picturesque couch-potato feline napping in the garden and frequently entering the kitchen to eat goodies.

All this reminded me of an irate Westerner I met at last week’s conference on global climate change. “At least with the Maoists there was a sense that something was going on? But now? Nothing!” He looked at me with weary disgust. No doubt donors, happy to have coaxed the cat of revolution to get down the trees and come to the garden, may have been preoccupied, as I was, in keeping the two fat but useless old dogs at bay till the kitten was fed a few slices of cheese. And they too, like me, must have been worried when the cat started to get too comfy, within the space of too short a time, and the grooming and the snuggling took precedence over the rat-hunting. And Nepal has many rats to kill—everything from food insecurity to water shortage, from bad education to terrible health delivery.

Have we lost our cat, a potential predator against the rats that are gnawing away at this country, to a pack of goofy dogs? As preparation heats up for the Copenhagen conference, and countries all over South Asia prepare their own strategy to deal with climate change and its impacts, Nepal’s own appears woefully inadequate. The Bangladeshi team leader talked powerfully about how the Copenhagen event would come, and Copenhagen would go, but how working together before and after was more important. The Bangladesh government has already allocated 125 millions by itself to climate change initiatives. He talked about how being proactive and taking actions independent of Western countries was important.

The Maldives delegation made even more sense. Amongst all the people talking about who’s to blame for climate change, they were refreshingly sensible. “I don’t like the blame game,” said the Honorable Minister from the Maldives. “Western countries shouldn’t pay because of what they did in the past, but of what they are capable of contributing to the present crisis. This is not about negotiation, since what we are talking about is non-negotiable.” Maldives will be the first nation to vanish under the sea if sea-levels continue to rise in the face of rising global temperatures. Three hundred thousand people will be displaced, and will have to migrate (although the Maldivians say staunchly they will stay and find a solution, even if they have to live on boats.) Perhaps because of this, they seem to know too well that stances which try to create a few more decades of fossil-fuel usage is suicidal madness for the entire planet.

For the team who negotiated the Kathmandu declaration on climate change, India’s attitude was (to quote one observer), like “a 400 pound gorilla that held all the bananas.” The Indian bureaucrat sent by the government lost no opportunity to remind everyone from the young parliamentarians to the whole audience that whatever was being discussed did not have Indian government sanction. Said the gorilla spotter, “Global climate change is taking central stage. India has lost a great opportunity to be a world leader on this topic.” For the irate Westerner, the question is even more simple. “Green technologies are profitable,” he says. “They make more money with green technologies than with oil. Why on earth would they not want to take the lead?” Eeer… cause they are gorillas?

No doubt the political zoo would be able to adapt both goofy dogs, skittish kittens, and 400 pound gorillas, but will the planet be able to take the drama much longer?

In my own garden, I pick up my purring kitten. I’ll introduce it to the dog, I think. As the dog peeps in, the kitten turns into a retractable claw machine, and before I know it the animal has bounded up a tree, leaving bloody scratches on my arm. My plans to control rats through my newfound feline, it seems, will have to remain in hiatus.

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