Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Ignorance is Bliss

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My recent question why we are so stupid has gone unanswered. But all indicators point to the fact that we are. We are nothing but stupid. And we are ignorant to boot. Friends in India, having read that blog, told me that they too had for a very long time been infatuated with the water-guzzling eucalyptus. But they learned the truth and now the pestilence of this Australian tree is being removed from Indian soil.

Conocarpus saplings on N-5 near Thatta in August 2012
We too should have learned that same lesson, especially after the 1990s findings of Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB, Faisalabad). For the first time we learned how every tree was like a tube well squandering away our subsoil water. We may not have been water-scarce in 1960 when idiot politicians ordered self-serving forest department officers to turn Pakistan green.

Dr Prior, an Australian eucalyptologist, was invited to sow disease in this good land and he told our moronic foresters that six of over six hundred species of eucalyptus, all native to Australia, were suitable to blight the fertile Indus Valley. And so it came to pass that many semi-educated and all uneducated folks in Pakistan believe eucalyptus is native to the subcontinent.

The government of Punjab thrice banned this bane. The last banning took place in 2003 when the good, clean man Kamran Rasul was the chief secretary. But even today, the nursery in Jauharabad is chock full of eucalyptus saplings and foresters across this sorry land encourage its plantation along irrigation ditches. However, the nursery in Jauharabad is not the only one: there are dozens if not hundreds of such nurseries across Pakistan. And there are innumerable foresters who encourage eucalyptus plantation on good farmland. Then since about 2003, we are happily corrupting this good land with yet another thirsty tree: conocarpus.

On 10 February, the Metro section of Dawn carried a front page image of a bunch of students digging holes in two rows. The caption reads, ‘Students plant saplings at Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif University of Agriculture to observe the National Green Day.’

Now since this university is named after a pea-brained politician besotted with the Arabian Desert, we can expect little of good sense to come from anything associated with him. I can bet two decades of my life that the holes will be filled with conocarpus (‘because it grows fast’). The few that remain will have date palms. The principle here is: let no mother’s son enjoy shade and if they do, let them die from asthma caused by the allergens released by conocarpus.

Inside, there is another news item that tells us that several universities are starting something called green campus. This, we are told, is being done on the instruction of the same pea-brained politician named above. Now, in a better place one would expect vice chancellors of universities to know what to plant. But I know from past experience that these so-called vice chancellors are nothing but another lot of idiots.

I say this because some months ago, Dawn carried a report of a conference organised by the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad on the water scarcity looming on our horizon. The VC expended a great deal of hot air on the subject without saying one intelligent word, that is, we, the private users, need to stop wasting water and that we need to get rid of our eucalyptus and conocarpus forests.

The man and all his colleagues are ignorant of reality. And ignorance is such wonderful bliss!

Incidentally, like the paper mulberry imported in the 1960s from China to make Islamabad and Rawalpindi green and sick with asthma, the conocarpus too is invasive. That is, once planted this bane whose pollination is wind-borne will spread its spawn all over the country. This blessed land will then turn wretched as wretched can ever be.

As for the wastage of precious water by private users, check out the wanton manner in which garden hoses, instead of buckets, are used to wash cars daily. As well as that, the washing of the drive and the road in front is equally blatant. That is not all. In most bathrooms one sees leaking WCs. And this is a one hundred percent phenomenon in lavatories of government offices. If you don’t trust me go check them out.

We waste millions upon millions of litres of good, clean water every single day, twenty-four hours a day!

We do that because water is god’s gift to us humans and nothing that god gives us can ever run out. However, we live in denial. Even believing that water will never run out is nothing but denial. We are fortunate that India plans to dam up the Chenab, Jhelum and Sindhu to starve us to our knees.

 The sign of the donor for the plantation project clearly says  ‘indigenous saplings’. However, only conocarpus was planted
That’ll be just as well because then our politicians will have, besides denial, India to blame for our troubles. Remember, it’s never our fault; there always has to be someone else.

Good night, Pakistan.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days