Water wars of Arizona: The New York Times

July 24, 2018


This IS one of the most pressing issues facing us. While we keep watching and measuring what comes from above our heads, we care so little about what happens beneath our feet.

I recently saw a table that gave the proportion of various sources of freshwater. Hardly 0.4% of our freshwater is available in rivers, lakes and such. About 69.6% of freshwater is locked in polar glaciers and mountain peaks. 30% is available as groundwater. Much of this is non-renewable. (This essay somewhat confirms these figures.) And yet, we neither have self-restraint nor regulations when it comes to using groundwater.

It is not easy to transport water. But food can be transported across continents. And food is water.

If this is the case in US, it is scarier in India, where drilling beyond 1000 feet is common practice now. Would we realise before it is too late that groundwater is not private property, that not all groundwater is renewable and that accessible groundwater is not inexhaustible?

But yeah, these doomsday-mongers be damned. Monsoon is pouring this year. Our children will desalinate. Seed clouds. Turn the planet inside out. Find another planet. Or whatever.

Excerpts from the essay on The New York Times:

/These enormous corporations were descending on the valley for the same reason homesteaders had a century ago: the year-round growing season and the lax regulation. Compared with those for rivers and lakes, few laws govern the extraction of groundwater today. Aquifers across the globe are beginning to quietly dry up under the compounded strain of increased food production and a two-decade stretch that now includes the 10 warmest years in recorded history, sending farmers plumbing deeper for deposits of water./

/Aquifers are unimaginably complex and incredibly fragile; once tapped, they can take more than 6,000 years to replenish./

/Once, it had been possible for ranchers to develop natural springs into watering holes using only a shovel. Now, after watching water levels drop 100 to 300 feet in 35 years, some farmers wondered how long they could go on./

/The mission’s primary purpose was to look at ice-sheet depletion, but over the next several years Dr. Jay Famiglietti, the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and his team noticed that many of the most significant sites of water loss were actually below ground. Of the planet’s 37 major aquifer systems, they discovered, 21 were on the verge of collapse. In the Great Plains, farmers had exhausted a third of Ogallala’s potable water in just 30 years. In California, the Central Valley aquifer was showing signs that it could drop beyond human reach by the middle of this century. But the worst declines were in Asia and the Middle East, where some of the planet’s oldest aquifers were already running out of water. “While we are so busy worrying about the water that we can see,” Famiglietti told me, “the water that we can’t see, the groundwater, is quietly disappearing.”/

/Squeezed by drought and tightening regulations, large farms started to seek out lesser-known pockets of cheap water. In rural Arizona, where there are essentially no groundwater regulations governing irrigation, they found an ideal destination. “What the smart money is doing is looking around and saying, ‘Where else can we go where there is no regulation?’ ” Robert Glennon, a professor of water law and policy at the University of Arizona and the author of “Water Follies,” told NPR in an interview. “And that is Arizona.”/

/Arizona was particularly attractive to Middle Eastern farmers. A policy of unregulated pumping on the Arabian Peninsula had, in 40 years, drained aquifers that had taken 20,000 years to form, leaving thousands of acres fallow and forcing Saudi Arabia and others to outsource much of their agricultural production. In 2014, a Saudi Arabian-owned company, the Almarai Corporation, bought 10,000 acres in the town of Vicksburg, northwest of Sulphur Springs Valley, planting alfalfa to ship halfway around the world to feed Saudi cattle. Then, a United Arab Emirates farming corporation, Al Dahra, bought several thousand-acre farms along both sides of the Arizona-California border. These purchases were perfectly legal, but many residents felt these newcomers were essentially “exporting water.” At least once, the Sheriff’s Department in Vicksburg deployed five deputies to stand guard at a town-hall meeting./

/Hydrogeologists use the phrase “groundwater mining” to describe situations in which the rate of water withdrawal exceeds the rate of replenishment. For some, the metaphor offers a stark lesson. “If we know we’re mining the water, let’s just say it,” said Richard Searle/

/Local farmers were never required to put meters on their wells, he pointed out, which meant that nobody knew exactly how much water was being pumped, much less how much was left. “Long term, people say we should search for a solution,” he said, “but they don’t want to be the ones to suffer.”/

Thirukkural’s Kaamathupaal: The Book of Love

July 24, 2018

After another long break, I have resumed Thirukkural translation on my Thirukkural website. The first few chapters of Kaamathupaal are published in the bilingual Tamizhini e-magazine.

Yuva Purashkar Award for Dr.Suneel Krishnan

July 23, 2018

(From the Sarvodaya Talisman, July-August 2018 issue.)


Writer Suneel Krishnan has been awarded the Yuva Purashkar Award (for Tamil) by Sahitya Academy, for his collection of short stories, Ambu Padukai (Bed of Arrows). Suneel is the founder of the ‘Gandhi Today’ website. There, he has compiled a large corpus of translated works of Gandhi in Tamil, various essays about Gandhi and the Gandhian leaders. He is an Ayurvedic Doctor from Karaikudi.

Suneel Krishnan has carved out two distinct identities for himself as a creative writer and a Gandhian. He looks at himself more as a Gandhian enthusiast than a Gandhian. Yet, many of his stories are inspired by his Gandhian concerns and conflicts. In two of his earliest stories, ‘Gandhi and I’ (Gandhiyum Naanum) and ‘Ascension’ (Arohanam), Gandhi appears as a character. In Ascension, Gandhi rejects an eternally happy heaven and chooses hell, where he could serve those were suffering. This evokes memories of a Gandhi who did not cease for a moment to savour the joy of independence, and was travelling across the riot-torn areas of Naokhali, Calcutta, Bihar and Delhi (and was planning to visit West Pakistan) striving bring peace.

Pesum Poonai (Talking Cat) and Ambu Padukai (Bed of Arrows) are his other prominent short stories. In these stories also, we could sense his Gandhian sensibilities. I see ‘Talking Cat’ as his take on the hold exerted on our everyday lives by modern science and economic changes. The story narrates using techniques of magic-realism, how consumerism and surveillance by Government and private companies pervade our lives, without our knowledge. These are concerns inherited by the Gandhian way of thinking. In ‘Bed of Arrows’, Suneel brings out the friction between native knowledge systems and modern scientific approaches. More than the criticism hurled by the society at the practitioners of traditional systems, it is an exploration of the self-doubts and convictions of the practitioners themselves. The protagonist’s love for humanity and compassion trump his urge to establish his medical credentials. Another short story, Nakra Rethas (Crocodile Semen), also takes as its theme, the clash between medical ethics and personal values.

Suneel Krishnan has been inspired and mentored by the Tamil writer, Jeyamohan. Suneel considers Asokamitran and Yuvan Chandrasekhar to be other major influences on his writing.

Literature is never a zero-sum game. However, awards push us to play that game. There could be more young writers who are as capable as or even better than Suneel. But Suneel’s contribution is on a much larger canvas than mere fiction. It cannot be ignored by anyone. Though, this award may have been given for a specific book, Suneel is one of the rare youngsters whose lifetime contribution cannot be ignored. The young Gandhian enthusiasts like Suneel Krishnan and Rattai Ragunathan, have revived the interest in Gandhi among a new generation of Tamil youth, who read a lot in Tamil, especially online. Suneel has contributed greatly to bringing about a reassessment of Gandhi, Gandhian thoughts, alternative thinking in economics, education and other fields. Leaping beyond the small confines of the world of serious literature, this is a significant contribution to the larger world of Tamil writing and Tamil intelligentsia.

He is now compiling and editing the major writings about Gandhi in Tamil literature.

Suneel’s essays on Ayurveda also call for a deeper and wider reading. He has been contributing significantly to online literary magazines like Padakai.

Many before Suneel have received Yuva Purashkar and Sahitya Academy Awards. Many of them have not continued to write with the same vigour. But Suneel has the potential and zeal to continue to contribute constructively for many years to come. This award assumes significance since it can help bring more attention to his work and writings on Gandhi. My best wishes to Suneel.

Pussy Riot: A defining moment of the World Cup

July 16, 2018

We were shown Putin making an elaborate statement with his umbrella. But we got only a fleeting glance of the statement against his umbrella.

We didn’t know it then but this is an equally defining moment of the World Cup. What seemed to be an unruly interruption in the game, was perhaps more important than the game itself.

Pussy Riot members made a statement on the ground by courting arrest and off it on social media. Their demands are as applicable in our country as anywhere else.

/The heavenly policeman is the organizer of this World Cup’s beautiful carnival, the earthy policeman is afraid of the celebration.

The heavenly policeman carefully watches for obeying the game rules, the earthly policeman enters the game not caring about the rules.

The FIFA World Cup has reminded us of the possibilities of the heavenly policeman in the Great Russia of the future, but the earthly policeman, entering the ruleless game breaks our world apart.

When the earthly policeman enters the game, we demand to:
1. Let all political prisoners free.
2. Not imprison for “likes”.
3. Stop Illegal arrests on rallies.
4. Allow political competition in the country.
5. Not fabricate criminal accusations and not keep people in jails for no reason.
6. Turn the earthly policeman into the heavenly policeman./

Their full statement is here.


July 16, 2018

I thought Mbape’s breathtaking runs or Belgium’s midfield magic would be my abiding memories of this world cup.

But no, wait.
(Cliche alert.)
The best was reserved for the last.

Grim Putin
under an umbrella;
two visiting presidents,
all smiles and hugs,
getting drenched.

Does it even surprise us?





Trampling over sane voices

July 16, 2018

It is horrifying, what we are doing in the name of development. We may ignore (at our own peril) the voices that challenge the current mode of development, the voices that utter the E-word. Disagree with them. Debate with them. Prove them wrong. But why suppress them? Why torture them? Why demean them?

A society raised upon the tears and blood of good people is not worth living in.

via Nityanand Jayaraman

Mughilan has been in jail for over a year. A committed activist who took on the sand mafia (politicians of all parties in other words), fought against the Koodankulam nuclear plant — which rarely functions — and has lent his might to root out corruption in public life, Mughilan has been dumped in solitary confinement in Madurai in a mosquito infested cell. Shame on you Government of Tamil Nadu that you cannot respect honesty, decency and courage. Mughilan’s fight is for all of us, including the undeserving people in politics and business.
#FreeMughilan /

The great Indian oligarchy

July 16, 2018

This piece from The Guardian is a must read. The growing inequality and a ruthless development model that expedites it is one of the biggest dangers that we have to deal with. All other gains could be negated by this.


/ the top 10% of earners now take around 55% of all national income – the highest rate for any large country in the world./

Its richest 1% earned about 7% of national income in 1980; that figure rocketed to 22% by 2014, according to the World Inequality Report. Over the same period, the share held by the bottom 50% plunged from 23% to just 15%./


This nexus between business and politics lies at the heart of the third problem of India’s billionaire Raj, namely the boom-and-bust cycle of its industrial economy. In recent decades, China went on the largest infrastructure building spree in history, but almost all of it was delivered by state-backed companies. By contrast, India’s mid-2000s boom was dominated almost exclusively by its private-sector tycoons, giving the industrialists and the conglomerates they run a position of outsized importance in India’s economic development.


Many experts believe India needs to act. “The main danger with extreme inequality is that if you don’t solve this through peaceful and democratic institutions then it will be solved in other ways … and that’s extremely frightening,” as French economist Thomas Piketty has said of India’s future, pointing to likely rising future tensions between the wealthy and the rest.