Memoirs from the past, by Vandana Singh

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Back in 2011-2012 I was a columnist for an ezine called Strange Horizons, one of the flagship magazines for thoughtful, atypical science fiction and fantasy.  For a few years previously I had started to worry about climate change, and to learn enough about it to teach it in my classes.  I teach at a small state university near the Boston area, where I am a physics professor.  For several decades I had not worked on anything to do with the environment, except through fiction (including my children’s book Younguncle in the Himalayas, directly inspired by the first big Kalpavriksh Himalayan trip in 1980).  So around 2010, the urgency of the climate crisis called to me to return to the concerns that had animated my life as a teen and young adult growing up in Delhi.  Back then, I had gone on the now legendary Kalpavriksh trip to Tehri-Garhwal (Image to the left: In conversation with Chipko movement activists); I had been among the twelve or so of us young people who sat under a tree in Lodi Gardens and decided we would start an environmental action group; I had even edited the first few newsletters.  But since then, life had pulled me away toward other directions and other shores.  I missed being in India, and I missed the daily interaction with other species.  I remembered the unpolluted Delhi of my teen years, and the bird bath I had built for the feathered denizens of our South Delhi garden.  As the dire warnings about environmental destruction began to sound in my ears again with the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, I felt the old longing to engage with people as I had in the KV days, to dream of and work for a world that was socially just and environmentally healthy.  So in 2011 when I had the chance to write about anything at all for Strange Horizons, it isn’t surprising that environmental concerns came up right away.

As I look back at these pieces in 2019 I reflect on what I didn’t know when I wrote them in 2011 – I didn’t know, for instance, about the crucial role that indigenous people and the rural poor play in taking care of our forests and biodiversity.  I didn’t know that the climate crisis would get this bad.  I didn’t foresee that India would not only continue along the path to destructive development, but would do so on steroids.  But I also didn’t know that there would be so many movements of resistance and positive change, points of light in the darkness as documented in the Vikalp Sangam project.  I didn’t know about the concept of Radical Ecological Democracy that would animate hearts and minds in three continents.  And that Kalpavriksh would thrive to see its 40th anniversary! 

My relatively short early experience with Kalpavriksh was life-changing.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but now that I’ve marked well over fifty revolutions around the sun, I look back and see the seeds of who I am today taking root in those days of camaraderie, shared visions, vigorous arguments, collective action, and our youthful dream of a green, just, utopic future.  Somehow, despite the terrible times in which we live, I still hold on to that dream.  

Following are links to those pieces:

Vandana Singh, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Physics and Earth Sciences, Framingham State University