Author :
Atulya Misra IAS, ACS, Government of Tamil Nadu.
Category :
Literature & Fiction
Publisher :
Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd.
Available On :
Available on- Amazon
Quote By Author :
Publish Date :
20-Mar-2019


Review :

 
Oxygen Manifesto
The drums of conundrums….  
“OM,” a mystic syllable that is considered sacred across Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, is the spiritual sound that refers to the soul (Atman) and ultimate reality (Brahman). “Aum” as it is pronounced, weaves a link between the inner energies, wisdom and focus (through meditation). Talking about the book here, “Oxygen Manifesto” (OM) is about weaving together the Atman of the mother Earth along with the Brahman of our existence as justified by our actions. This book throws a high dimension focus on the beauty and conservation of the environment. 
OM……
The book, “Oxygen Manifesto – A Battle for the Environment,” penned down by Atulya Misra is his debut book. This is a story (fiction) of environmental realities that get inter-twined with various systemic and system-oriented realities (including political and media systems). This 195-page-book will cite various reasons as to why there is a dire emergency for protecting nature and in improving it. The author has chosen an intelligent way to portray this. The entire book is in a narrative style. Though the protagonist is Ravi Chandra Bose; however, the entire plot revolves around him and Thatha.  The story is quite engaging, which strikes a balance between the efforts vested in creating the plot and at the same time maintaining the proportions of the doses for highlighting the scenarios of environmental degradation and the way forward. OM, here, is a perfect food for thoughts,  with all the elements used in perfect equilibrium.
The book starts with the author entering the autumn years of his service in the Indian Police Service and spending his “fortnight-long-break” in the stunning virgin beauty of the dense islands of Andaman. He was in Port Blair, partying, snorkeling, fishing, sailing, trekking, camping, and enjoying life to the fullest in a lot many ways. While on a visit to a village, he saw a man nearly his age, who was teaching children in the village, and whom he found out to be Ravi Chandran Bose. But no one, including the police, had a clue about Ravi’s presence in the islands. Consequently, the author thought of taking this up as an assignment to investigate the life story of Ravi and a publishing company readily agreed to fund this assignment and publish it even. This is how the title of the first chapter of this book, “In Search of Bose..” found a justification. Now, the axe is struck on the ground and the story finds its opening. 
 
The author’s first stop in the understanding of the journey, was Thatha, a man with frowzy looks, simplicity and silence. The dying Thatha was the eighth  child of his family, surrounded by his nieces and nephews. His parents passed away before he turned into an adult, yet the large composition of his joint family didn’t pump his solitude. He, along with his family, lived in a remote village in Moreh, near Manipur, which was inhabited by several Tamil-speaking people whose forefathers hailed from a village in a Tamil Nadu’s coastal district namely, Thoothukudi. Thatha had a  small world that could be put into a “sandook” (as it revolved around a few clothes, utensils, books, and some consumables) that he can carry on his bicycle. Thatha’s character is one of a charismatic one. He could speak 20 different  dialects of hilly areas, and read and wrote Hindi, Assamese and Bengali. The entry of Thatha is described in the second chapter, “Thatha- the Odd Man of Moreh.” The same chapter talks about the flowery side of independence as well as the fiery side. The fiery side was heavier than that was expected. As much as the struggle for independence was painful the resulting separation and division was that excruciating. But the filthiness of political system became quite prominent for it cashed on the divisions. Vote banks were created making the emergence of politics as the biggest industry. Hypocrisy soared. At the same time, natural resources were cornered. Gradually, like several states and cities, Manipur too changed in the name of modernization and development with buildings mushrooming in and around the state, cars, loudspeakers and crowd. It stood like a complete concrete jungle. Green patches started shrinking. Flowers stopped blooming. Birds other than crows flew away, and monkeys and rabbits were driven out. Fresh water scarcity popped in. Nature started showing adverse signs, only if we could have deemed these signs to be serious, we could have stopped the planet from entering the zone of climate crisis that it is in now. Often, in the trial to make a beautiful world and lead a happy life, we tend to remind ourselves of the basic elements of our existence and survival. Hence, we ignore the nature – unapologetically.
 
Towards the end of Chapter 3, you would find that the author travels to Chennai to know more about Ravi. He meets Ravi’s colleagues and acquaintances, including a close aide – a former scientist of IIT Madras Dr. Armugham. Dr. Armugham led the author to Afghanistan as he had relocated from Chennai to Kabul to assist US army. And one day, on the occasion of Diwali party at the Indian ambassador’s residence, the keen author met the sober and informative Dr. Armugham. This meeting turned out to be fruitful for the long wait of the author, as Dr. Armugham connected him with Ravi’s relatives, colleagues, batch mates and others. Sources, huh!
 
Steadily, the evolution or the sketching of Ravi’s character and characteristics begin. Ravi, who once dressed up as Mahatma Gandhi, studied in a school, where his mother taught. He was a pleasant, sensitive and romantic person. His parents were teachers. His elder sister was married to Dr. Armugham. His family was from Tiruchengode, and finally settled in Salem. Ravi was a graduate from the Coimbatore Agriculture University. He was very talented and intelligent. He got through the UPSC exam with an all-India rank 14th, in his first attempt. Thereafter, his journey towards the discovery of his new identities began. In the chapter “ The Finest of the Best,” you will read about his probationary period. He was a shy probationer, yet a hardworking one. He took several effective initiatives  to enhance the socio-economic quotient of the poor people. 
 
Later, he was allotted the AGMUT cadre. He was posted in the most unwanted place of Manipur, Jiribam, where even Manipuri officers hesitate to go. He learned Hindi and Manipuri from his helper Bhim Singh. Singh also enlightened him about the local politics and insurgency. Ravi worked in the sub-divisional office of the district, and used to travel far off villages and remote habitations to check the infrastructure, facilities and others. Soon, he gained popularity and became a sought-after identity. The telescope on his terrace was a great tool to while away the time. It is during his stay there, he  came close to the nature. With his Indian Forest Service officer-friend, he used to explore the hidden beauties of nature. They used to trek (and at times, camp in the jungle) together to observe flora and fauna. Soon Ravi developed a knack of identifying the local and scientific names of insects, grasses, butterflies, orchids, flowers, etc. 
 
If you’re wondering about the link between two central characters of this book (Thatha and author), then you must know that they both shared a special friendship. Ravi played a key and crucial role in building the case study on Thatha for the Ministry of Northeast. As and when required, Ravi would go to the Tamil habitation for solace. 
 
To find more about Ravi, the author wanted to connect with Rhea. Rhea was living in Khovd. One day he caught her with her partners Devasheswh inside Gobi forest. She was an amateur photographer, and she provided useful information about Ravi and Tara. One of the interesting things about Ravi was that he was often captioned as, “Rajnikant.” He met Tara, his soul mate during a Manipuri dance concert. She was a good listener. Chapter 12 describes how he met his soul mate. While going through the book, one would notice the mentions of various traditions and festivals like Kang-Hi of Maram tribe, and famous traditional fight Jalikattu, etc. It adds to the ethnic and cultural quotient of the book. 
 
Manipur changed Ravi’s life and transformed him into a better version of himself. Towards Chapter 15, author takes us to Ravi’s phase of life when he visits the largest freshwater lake of the Northeast Loktak Lake. It is a habitat of unique floating phumids that supported the livelihood of fishermen. He visited Dzukou Valley, where he saw varieties of dwarf bamboo grasslands, mushrooms, lilies and beautiful flowers. The worst part was that global warming was serving as a persistent threat to their existence, and that these people were forced to “adapt to a modern way of life.” And this sort of approach led to the degradation of natural habitats, disappearance of species. He realized that the “safeguarding of habitat was the need of the hour.” He channelized his efforts in to the direction of survival of humanity and for all living forms.
 
Ravi’s eldest son started teaching Yoga in a studio in Prague with a local friend. Soon, Yoga became a household name there. While travelling with them in their comfy caravan) also termed as a “laboratory on wheels”) to different places to teach Yoga. The author became a forced vegan, while being thoughtful about the questions like, “Is it necessary to steal milk from the calf?” They also collected money by teaching Yoga. They were conducting research on the medicinal plants in the caravan. The duo was on a mission to adopt a mountain with their savings. The mountain was planned to be called as “Panchvati,” where all the medicinal plants ever known to the mankind would be grown. Noble intention and thoughts! By some time the author had collected crucial information. “All the reminiscences, speeches, lectures, interactions and writings of Ravi will run into thousands of pages.”
Throughout the story, what remains as a constant pull for fight for nature was Ravi’s stay in naturally blessed places. 
 
Chapter 23, the title track or the story of the book, “The Oxygen Manifesto – a Curtain-raiser,” talks about Ravi’s announcement if his manifesto. Sailing through the daily political news about 2019 elections, definitely gives just one frame for the word “manifesto.” Yes, you guessed it right, only the political parties’ declaration would come to mind. But here the manifesto is all about environment. Oxygen Manifesto is a story of the triumph of ordinary people over the might of the establishment in their battle to save the environment. Probably, along with having an access to clean-breathable air, this manifesto is also indicating at the essence of the creating space for everyone’s existence. 
 
“What was there before the idea of wealth became all encompassing? There were space, air, water, soil, minerals, animals and plants. There were no species, which was superior or inferior.” Ravi underlined that the equilibrium of the nature has been disturbed as there is dominance of monocultures in agriculture and forestry; and man is promoting tailored species of plants and animals to fulfill his needs. He emphasized that the vision is to ensure survival and conservation of the habitat. “We want to see returning to us and our children pure air, pure water, fertile land, top soil, biological diversity and safe food.
 
During the announcement of his manifesto, he also mentions that housing and hunger have become a curse as humans are losing out on their skills of homemaking, food gathering harvesting plants, etc. bottled water has become costlier than petroleum, and yes, water is big problem. This manifesto, as he said, aims at bringing he habitat; its preservation; conservation and emancipation at the center of polity. And that, it will be called as, “Oxygen Manifesto.” After completing his speech, Ravi took a seat next to Thatha. Ravi received nation and international recognition for his vision and his commitment to the environment. It wasn’t a one-man-show, but a cart of revolution being pulled by two legendary people.
 
As we proceed to “Countdowm to a World Sans Number,” we get to realize that like a machine’s functionality is dependent on binary system of numbers, similarly mankind was created with binary configuration of one and a zero. Well, this gives a glimpse of the scene in the black hole and time travel from the movie, “Interstellar.” Goosebumps and goosebumps!
 
Air pollution has taken a toll in many cities. Ambient air pollution is detrimental to the living beings’ survival, but indoor air pollution is even worse. Have you ever tried a mask on your nose and mouth to prevent dust particles from entering your respiratory system?  If the masks aren’t the proper one, you wouldn’t know that particulate matters like PM 10, PM 2.5 and PM1, and VOCs have the ability to find a way to attack our health. 
 
In the chapter, “Masks to Hide the Ugly Truth of Air Pollution,” author highlights the grave concerns that air pollution throw upon us. Ravi lamented about the degradation of the environment, and at the same time, he also declared that our polity will “stand on the pillars of environmental protection, democratic decentralization, direct civil action and divinity.” He also talks about penalizing the culprits for polluting air. 
 
Ravi was scared about the future of the planet. He expresses his fear for increased levels of CO2; summer becoming even hotter, climate extremes and more. You will find about his fright for Earth’s safety in Chapter 28. While in Chapter 29, the author talks about the survival of biodiversity species that form the ecosystem. Everyday many of aquatic animals die due to our carelessness. The photo of a turtle tangled in a polythene is no joke. Why such things happen? Flushing wastes into the water bodies, might get you rid of the polyethene but our wastes are making aquatic ecosystem’s cycle more challenging. Over fishing is one of the causes of over exploitation of the fishing. All of it is quite evident in, “A Sea of Sorrow and Oceans.”
 
The author also highlights noise pollution, in addition to air pollution. In Chapter 34, “More Power to the People,” the author talks about the optimizing the extent of democracy. Decentralized democracy was taken up as the ideology of the Oxygen Manifesto. According to Ravi, “Democracy is all about votes and vote banks. Decentralization is to give the prime position and focus to voters.
 
Ravi is of the opinion that after decades of social inclusion, the governments of the day have not been able to reach hundreds of poor and disadvantaged communities. A democratic decentralization will create a matrix  around the individuals, families, communities, etc. According to decentralized democracy, the communities will choose their leaders, who will further choose their representatives and candidates.
 
Apart from talking about different factors and problems pertaining to environmental issues, the author also cites self governance/ management in applying a control and resolving mechanism. With this in place, as is said, problems like water supply, primary and secondary education, housing, sanitation, electricity generation, hygiene, hunger, etc., “can be shouldered by skilled, resourceful and empowered citizens.” In “Fire Without Smoke,” Ravi clarifies that the Oxygen Manifesto is not for capturing power, but to initiate direct action with or without getting into power. Someone has atly quoted, “Where there is a will; there is  a way.”
 
An idle mind is devil’s workshop, is the crux that the title of the Chapter 38 suggests, “To Keep Sitting is to Start Dying,” which traces back to the basic concept of circles and lines. Ravi mentioned in the meetings, “.. there would be no stage, no podium, no dais, no microphone. People will stand in egalitarian circles instead of sitting in hierarchal rows.”
 
In the last chapter, “What More Can I Say,” it is said that the candidates following the Oxygen Manifesto or OM form the first national government, while Ravi managed to vanish into anonymity meanwhile, as if his purpose of coming back to existence is to show the way forward and teach how to fall in love with the nature. 
 
With 60 intricately woven chapters, the author has tried his best to spread the message that when it comes to protecting nature, it is not a scientist’s job, we all should come forward to put in collective efforts. Oxygen Manifesto is book of a strong outlook that talks about the solution to climate change, and it is the best way to convey this. A book (with all the suggestions) written as a story is more engaging and interactive, and any day better than the books written only in a suggestive manner. The author's approach towards generating awareness about climate change; clicking that intensity and the mitigations, is commendable. It is a must read.
 
 
About the Author
Atulya Misra, a senior officer of Indian Administrative Services, who is currently posted as the Principal Secretary, Revenue and Disaster Management Department in Government of Tamil Nadu. He has earlier worked as Principal Secretary in the departments of Industries, Environment & Forests, and Transport. He has also served as chairman of different organizations, including Chennai Port Trust, Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board, Titan and TNPL. Atulya Misra is an alumnus of Scindia School, Gwalior; Hindu College, University of Delhi; TERI University, Delhi; universities of Texas and Yale, USA; and Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, UK. He was awarded a doctorate by Anna University, Chennai, for his work on carbon footprint. He has written numerous papers for scientific journals. Oxygen Manisfesto is his contribution towards sustainability. The author dedicates his book to his grandfather, mentor, and role model the late Shri Bhogilal Misra.
 

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