One afternoon I joined some visiting German friends on a trip up to Horsely Hills – a nearby hill station and government-owned (run down) tourist attraction. It’s supposedly the highest point in Andhra Pradesh and home to a pack of black-faced, languor monkeys. Although it’s a mere 30 minute drive from Rishi Valley or a few hours of hiking, it hadn’t really made it to the top of my to-do list for perhaps obvious reasons …namely, creative differences with the AP government around the term “recreating”. But the invitation arose so I decided to join in.
As we turned off the main highway and began the serpent-like climb into the hills, lush forests of eucalyptus trees shaded the roads – a stark contrast from the dry, rocky brush we started from just minutes before. It was refreshing to be amidst so much green – for a minute I even forgot I was in India – but I couldn’t help but feel like something wasn’t quite right.
When we arrived at our destination, we took a walk around the small cluster of hotels, shops (all closed down), and ice cream vendors. We checked out the view from all directions and I wondered aloud as I stepped over a potato chip wrapper what this strange place was like just 50 years ago.
And then I saw it: a pool.
Now, it may only seem natural for a tourist attraction to have a swimming pool – even in the middle of a draught area. In the U.S., after all, we’ve constructed thriving metropolises in the middle of deserts with hundreds, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of swimming pools. Right? But something doesn’t seem quite right about that, either.
The one thing I find most beautiful about this country is its complete, pure – even brutal – honesty. I feel like someone, somewhere once said something along the lines of “above all else, give me truth” (paraphrasing from the far depths of my sun-bleached memory…). You can’t hide the truth in India…because where would you hide it? And as harsh as it can be at times, it’s something I’ve come to respect a great deal about this place.
So what shook me so deeply about seeing an imported (literally) pool on top of a hill in the middle of the vast, rocky, draught-ridden land was that, down below, people are struggling to survive. Water is the lifeblood of any place and it is well beyond the crisis point in this region. A 2009 land use report I once got my hands on described the groundwater as “over-exploited” and so much of what we’re working on is education around efficient cropping and water management techniques to sustain the livelihoods of farmers. We’re talking subsistence here, people…not just improved comfort levels. Even I’ve been made acutely aware of my bad water-use habits and had to learn how to use as little as possible. But I guess, so the story goes, you can get whatever you can pay for…for now, at least. If this experience wasn’t a big, fat symbol for the way the world works, I’m not sure what is.
I’ve come to learn that the U.S. is a fantastic magician – probably the best in the world. We’ve got layers upon layers of cover-ups and never-minds (plus deep pockets) that allow us to lead our comfortable and “protected” lives at the expense, or ignorance, of the rest of the globe. But the more honest truth I’m exposed to over here, the more I wonder exactly how long we think we can go on like this? How much do we really think we can consume and at what expense? How many lives are we willing to sacrifice to maintain our lifestyles? And at some point – in the very near future – is our perceived entitlement to these precious resources going to come down to pocketbooks or populous?