Geographies of our daily needs

manasi cha paritushtey k’orthavān ko daridaha

If one is contented in the mind, who is wealthy, who is poor?

We often confuse needs and wants. This leads to many complications in life. As with everything else, this also has a strong geography connection.

On the last day of the recent International Geography Youth Summit – 2017 (IGYS-2017), we had an open-forum discussion on what the theme for the next IGYS should be. My friend and colleague, Ms Vidya Shankar (who is almost as fanatical about geography education as I am) suggested that we should explore Geographies of our daily needs as the topic.

Why do I agree with this suggestion?

Śrī M K Gandhi is said to have remarked, “The earth has enough resources for our need, but not for our greed.” Here, greed stands for what we want.

This is not some grand philosophical statement up in the clouds. It is very well rooted in ground reality. Earth is finite. Therefore, the material resources that it offers are also finite. Finite = limited.

Every day, we consume so much. Food, goods, and so on. Many … perhaps most … of these are not needs. They are wants. Every single thing we consume has an environmental cost. And a human cost, too.

Many of the foods we consume, for example, have a background story that is not healthy for our environment. One example is the consumption of rice. In an earlier article, I have talked about the environmental costs of rice cultivation. It also has many health costs. Millets (siri dhānyagalu in Kannada) such as ragi, jola, etc. are excellent alternatives. Increasingly, traditional rice-eaters are beginning to include more millets in their diets. (Read: Here, eat some grass)

When we consume more millets, we also support farmers in semi-arid areas who are struggling to make a living.

Every time we consume a soft drink, we are consuming a product that is exploiting ground water resources at the cost of farmers’ irrigation needs. The farmers produce food (need) as opposed to the soft drink (want). Just search Google for Plachimada and read about the story of Coca Cola, the village panchayat’s concerns, and how the story has unfolded.

Alas, our city governments’ failure to provide safe drinking water everywhere leads us to buy bottled water which is supposed to be safe. This water comes from a source that is often public property for which the companies pay a pittance. There is hardly any incentive for them to use that resource wisely. Their motive is profit. There is even one bottled water company that claims to ‘put more into the environment’ than they extract. This is absolute nonsense.

Is it all gloom and doom? Is there nothing we can do to make a difference for the better? As geographers – citizen geographers, to boot – what are we to do about wiser consumption? What are our choices? Do we have to stop consuming things all together? Or are there small steps we can take in our own lives and behaviors that could be sustainable?

More!

Our daily needs are not just material things. We also need community. We are social animals. We are not self-sufficient. Therefore, we are part of a network of life.

This network is not just about material needs. Instead, it is also about emotional, psychological, and spiritual support. We all wish to have lives free from stress and full of joy. We desire companionship of different kinds. We need physical safety, freedom from suffering deprivations. These needs are as vital as the material needs.

In wishing for welfare, the late Dr V Raghavan prayed that all people may be virujas-subhikshāha – ‘free from disease, and prosperous.’

Citizen geographers

What can we, as citizen geographers do in our own small worlds, at our personal level, at home, in our immediate neighborhoods to understand the geographies of our daily needs? With that understanding, how can we help make life more wholesome? How can we ‘be the change that we want to see’?

Give these some thought. Observe your own life and see what your needs are and what your wants are. Observe what goes into providing you these. Are there ways that you could tweak your life to make at least a small difference in how you occupy this world and participate in it?

It could be as simple as turning off the water tap when you don’t need the water to be running. It could be as simple as offering a smile and a pleasant word to someone just because you want to treat them as you would have them treat you.

Why not try a well-structured experiment that can help you understand how your point of view as a Citizen Geographer may help you … and the world around you? How may your thoughts and the actions based on those thoughts make you a better Citizen Geographer?

We’ll announce the dates and venue of the next IGYS in the near future.

Come and share your experience with others like you who have also tried to make changes in their lives.

A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition, October 2017

Featured image: World Hunger Map. Courtesy, UN World Food Programme. (Click on the link to see a larger version of the map)