Part 3 – Economic Shock and Emotional Disorder
In the year 2007, just before the economic recession hit the world, the price of tea, ginger and pepper hit unexpected highs. I had in-laws in Gudalur, near Ooty, where these crops are widely cultivated. Once the prices hit the high watermark, common folk there went on a spending spree that was unimaginable before.
Farmers would travel in the back of trucks with their crop and come back driving brand new SUVs. Scorpios were like toys in those days. In no time, the face of Gudalur had changed completely. And then came the crash.
In families, comparisons of how individual members were doing were rife. I personally know eight men, all between the early 20s to early 40s (no women at all) who committed suicide in less than a year. Two of them were my brothers in law.
This was just not acceptable to me. I used to preach that at any point of time, when one felt suicidal, it would make more sense to go to some barren area and plant trees. It was preferable to destroy your life in a futile attempt to restore life in a desert than to die for a family fight. My own life turned out that way.
I left my house and family and went to Vizag and then further into rural Andhra Pradesh, on a government project to impart employment skills. I lived on a Rs.300 per month salary, expenses on my food, accommodation and transportation having been taken care of by my employer.
I was still spreading word about Peak Oil, but oil itself refused to peak. And yet, Peak Oil wouldn’t leave me and I continued to preach the message. It was very difficult to accept I was wrong. Rather, I was ready to go to any extent to prove that I was right.
The training programme I was employed with was a World Bank funded project that was shut down following the onset of recession. I now had to find my own way back.
I made it back to Vizag, where I was forced to sleep on the beach because I didn’t have the Rs.30 required to rent a bed in a dormitory. Instead, slept inside a make-shift sleeping bag made of paper, which would keep the sea breeze and mosquitoes away for the night. All this was happening to someone who was once a production studio manager in one of the world’s leading advertising agencies, who studied in one of Bangalore’s poshest schools, and yeah, a classmate of Hotmail fame Sabeer Bhatia.
I was clearly in the grip of some psychological disorder, and had to do something about it. I then moved to Hyderabad, where I stayed with a friend. My friend was no ‘peakist,’ but would suggest that I may have been afflicted by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
And then one day, while getting my usual dose of the Energy Bulletin (now Resillience.org), I came across an article by Rob Hopkins on the Transition Town Network, a positive initiative he founded to address Peak Oil and Climatic Change.
Wow! That one presentation restarted life for me. I recall the lunch we had that day, which had spinach we had grown on our balcony. Our landlord had restricted our gardening to two 5″ pots on the balcony, in which we nevertheless proudly grew spinach, aloe vera, potatoes, tomatoes, chillies and capsicum. Some days, we got to harvest our own produce, but that day it felt more like a conquest. It wasn’t just the spinach, it was my first brush with Transition Towns that did it.
Today, the one thing I advocate to anyone who’s feeling depressed is to grow something – because we live in food prisons. But more about that another time.
P.S. To know what I’m talking about, watch this talk by guerilla gardener Ron Finley, who wants you to “come to the garden with your shovel so we can plant some shit”.