“Another cow died!” screamed a voice, interrupting the conversation between the chief and me. We ran to the place where we thought the sound came from. There, near the cowshed, was an apparently rattled farmer who sat near a lifeless cow, lamenting over his loss for which he had spent ten thousand rupees. He went on babbling as to how that cow used to supply the creamiest milk to his family and the villagers. By that time, a group of villagers had gathered around us. I had come to sojourn in my ancestral village for a month, after a year of exploring mars. Little did I expect to run into such a bizarre situation. I asked the village chief if this has happened before.
“This is not the first time this is happening. In fact, over the last eight months, many animals and birds started falling dead in a rather inscrutable manner. Many of our crops and trees have also developed diseases we have never encountered with before. “
“Can you show me these trees, or whatever is left of it?” I asked the village chief.
“But you won’t be able to do anything!” came the retort from the back.
Understanding that these villagers didn’t remember me, let alone trust me, I asked them-
“Do you remember Niranjan Bhai?”
“Yes! But how do you know about our beloved Niranjan Bhai?… Vinayak… is that you?”
“Yes. Yes, I am. I am the same boy who ran away from the village seventeen years ago to study in the city.”
“He now has degrees in various field of science and is a distinguished scientist.” Said the chief to the crowd, which had now grown bigger.
People who had woken up in the morning to perform prayers was attracted to the commotion and the older folk, especially, were lost for words, because the little Vinnu, the Vinnu they used to buy gifts for, the Vinnu who would sit on their laps and hear stories from, the same Vinnu was now a distinguished scientist. The older women cried and the men tried to control their tears and appear stern. Some of the younger men and women instantly remembered their playmate, while some had a distant memory of seeing me somewhere, long ago.
After, what seemed like an eternity, of shed tears, reliving memories and fulfilling obligations, the chief, my old friend, Raman and me set out to take a look at the pathetic scene. Something I immediately noticed, was that the leaves were discolored, almost to the point where it looked like accumulated soot. The leaves had a very strange texture and the underside of most leaves were silver.
Immediately I realized, “Fluoride poisoning.”
“Did anything strange happen right at the time when this started?” I asked
“Well… there was a chemical fertilizer industry set up. The main reason we agreed for the setup of the industry is because they agreed to provide us with employment. It would end the money problems of several people in our village.” Raman said.
“Where is the factory located?”
“It is located outside our village in a large grassy field where our cows graze.”
“Can I visit the factory?”
We set out to the industry after having a quick but heavenly sadhya at Seema aunty’s house. We slowly saw the changes in the atmosphere as we neared the factory. The blue skies started becoming grey. The earth transformed from ridden with green trees to barren fields with only tough weeds growing out of the hard ground. From birds chirping to the eerie silence broken only occasionally by the factory sirens.
When we finally reached, the skies seemed black almost, only, it was still evening. No signs of vegetation anywhere. Even the tough weeds seemed to die out. We were now sure of the cause of the “mysterious” deaths of animals and plants. A security guard led us inside and told us that the cloth we had wrapped around our mouth wasn’t going to be enough (He gave us “digital smoke screens” which, I never even heard of before!) From there, we went through some legal procedures to meet the president.
“Did you know that because of the chemicals released by your fertilizer factory, animals are dying and plants are wilting?” I asked.
“We cannot do anything about that. Our company papers have been approved by the authorities and we have improved the lives of many people.” The president said.
“But don’t you understand that your factory is also causing the destruction of the livelihood of many people! It destroys crops and kills their livestock. You plant is doing more harm than good!”
“But we can’t do anything. We are already facing a huge loss and we can’t afford to purchase the extremely expensive machinery involved in cleaning of our wastes.”
“Hmm… What if we help in getting the required money? Will you support us then?”
“Yes! We will do anything on our part to support you.
I interrupted the chief before he could talk.
“Leave it to me.”
After a good night’s sleep, we got down to business.
“You see, it goes like this,” I started “while I was studying in IISc, we had a project to try and contain the spreading of pollution through industries by what we called ‘smoke vaccines.’ We crushed leaves which was poisoned by fluoride and mixed it with an ingredient used in the making of bio fertilizers. The result was a toxin ten times more harmful than mercury. But, it surprisingly reacted with smoke particles to create a less harmful substance similar to compost. We have all the materials we need and we needn’t spend any money.”
We spent the next few days working on our ambitious project. Our grannies crushed the leaves of the dead trees, made a smokescreen, with a 50 m radius, using wire mesh and a lot of cloth, and the company happily provided us with the special ingredient we needed for the plan to be successful. Finally, we installed the ‘smokescreen’ on top of the main chimney and spread the vaccines on top of it.
It was the big moment. It was time to test if our plan had been successful. We gave a countdown-
The gears of the machinery in the factory slowly started moving. We anticipated the smoke to come pouring out any second………. And boom! The smoke was produced, but only pure air came out of the chimney. Our labor had borne its fruit. We congratulated each other and celebrated by having Janaki Dadi’s special Lassi.
Afterwards, after the celebration died down, the village chief came to me,
“It was indeed a god’s act. You have not only helped the villagers, but also gained their trust.”
“IISc really gave me a chance to exhibit my talents. I learned a great deal from my time in IISc. That’s why you mustn’t thank me, because I am an ordinary human like any of you. It is technology which really makes a difference.”
Submitted by: Karthik Sudheer.