19 October, 2020

When The Water Touches The Nose

Environmentalism isn't a luxury of the rich, sure. But when he really had to say why, he loses nerve.

When The Water Touches The Nose
Firstly, the book. Elegantly produced, with Gandhi on the cover peering disapprovingly through his steel rims at a limousine; a Coca Cola logo; and two women, one with shopping bags, another shouldering two baskets with a child in each. And if you’ve missed the point, there are nine chapters within, expounding on sustainability and social ecology.

Now, the author. Ram Guha’s prose is limpid, his research impeccable. In the first chapter, he traces his own journey from sociology, through lapsed Marxism in the radical ’80s of Calcutta, to environmental history and a peripatetic life of academia, archives and field enquiries. He poses a significant question right here—is there something like the "environmentalism of the poor" to counter the dominant view (now promoted by the likes of World Bank) that it is only economic affluence that permits the luxury of environmentalism?

Guha follows this up with the views of his three exemplars: Patrick Geddes, Radhakamal Mukerjee and J.C. Kumarappa. Geddes was a polymath town planner without a degree; Mukerjee taught sociology...



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