Climate reflections on a poem on 'progress' by Ramesh Agarwal

Sense of progress can be elusive in the field of Climate Change.

This is a republish of a short Hindi poem written by Ramesh Agarwal on 'progress'. This poem was originally published in his blog. This poem resonates with me and also exemplifies the ethos of Anabe Labs. I have put the English translation of the poem for non-Hindi readers and my reflection on it in the context of climate change. The English translation was done by me and improvised by Ramesh.

प्रगति की ओर

प्रगति की ओर चला जा रहा हूं मैं
लेकिन कोई मुझे बताये कौन है ये प्रगति?

क्या बंडल में बांधी हुई ये 500 की गड्डी है प्रगति
या फ़िर गाड़ी में “एसी” चला कर आ रही है प्रगति
नहीं तो हवाई जहाज में बैठ कर विदेश घूमने गई है प्रगति
कहीं में बाहर ढूंढ रहा हूं और इस बड़ी इमारत में छिपी बैठी तो नहीं है प्रगति?

मैंने रुक के सोचने की कोशिश की
लेकिन किसी ने कहा तुम रास्ता रोके खड़े हो, इसी लिए नहीं आ रही प्रगति
मुड़ के पीछे देखा तो दूर दूर तक नहीं दिखाई दी प्रगति
और आई एक आवाज़, आगे बढ़ो भाई वहीं मिलेगी तुम्हें प्रगति

तो चला जा रहा हूं मैं इस धुएं में
जब हटेगा धुआं तो शायद दिखाई देगी मुझे प्रगति
थोड़ा डर भी है के कहीं धुंए के आगे आग में लिपटी हुई ना मिल जाए प्रगति
पर मन बहला कर चल रहा हूं कि समुंदर में गोते खाती हुई मिलेगी मुझे प्रगति

Towards progress

I have been walking towards ‘Progress’
But, somebody tell me, who is this Progress?

Is a stack of 500-rupee notes, progress?
Or getting chauffeured in an air-conditioned car, progress?
Or is travelling to a foreign land in an aeroplane, progress
Or am I looking for it elsewhere, while this progress hides within a huge mansion?

I stood still and tried to ponder over the matter
But, somebody told me I was hindering the path, and hence evading progress
I turned back, and looked frantically, but saw no signs of progress even beyond the horizon
Then a voice called out to me, 'Keep walking; you will meet progress'

So here I am, walking through this haze and smoke
When this smoke lifts, maybe I will finally meet this Progress
But I fear when the haze clears, I will find this Progress engulfed in flames
Yet I keep convincing myself, that I shall find this Progress rolling with the waves in the ocean

The English translation does not really capture the eloquence expressed by the author in the native language. Nevertheless, the poem is very relevant to gauging progress in the context of Climate change.

The second stanza of the poem questions the material wealth we accumulate and whether that equates to progress. The climate parallel to this is whether the current hyper technology focus on the supply side in the form of 'greener' renewable energy sources, carbon removal tech, etc. is the antidote to the climate crisis or does giving equal importance (if not more) to the demand side by reducing our energy consumption needs to be more internalized.

The third and fourth stanza of the poem refers to the murky nature of human progress. In the climate field, regional and global policy developments make you wonder whether we are taking 'one step forward, two steps back'. Despite multiple international COP meetings, global emissions and average temperature are not stabilizing. We have to embrace it (grudgingly sometimes) and keep moving forward. We are in uncharted territory in regard to record temperatures, extreme climate events and biodiversity loss across the world. The journey to remediate all this will be very chaotic, sense of progress can be elusive most of the time, but we have to reconcile with the uncertainties and make ourselves resilient in facing the consequences from the human's exploitative interactions with nature and move forward.

I would love to hear your feedback in the comments and let me know if you see any other climate connections in the poem!

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About the Author: Rajesh has MSc in Chemical Engineering with combined industry experience of over 8 years in Canadian oil and gas industry, consulting on carbon offsets and emission reduction assessments for low carbon technologies. He is currently a Research fellow at Rho Impact.

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Content writing for Anabe Labs by Rajesh Hegde is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0