Hope Beyond the ‘Age of Greed’

Iris CF Gomes

‘I didn’t write this book for anyone above the age of 60,’ says Hartman de Souza, author of the provocatively titled Eat Dust: Mining and Greed in Goa. Goa is seen by most outsiders as the quintessential holiday destination, with its numerous beaches, shacks, and thriving nightlife. Eat Dust shatters the façade that the Ministry of Tourism has built around the true Goa, the Goa devastated by mining and the resulting environmental degradation. Hartman believes that Goa stands as a microcosm for the rest of the country. Its high standards in the areas of literacy, public health, gender equality, reservations, etc, right up to the mid 1980s, could well stand as an example of what is achievable in any state of the country. ‘In fact, Goa is so small, so easily manageable, it could be the most perfect destination in the world,’ says Hartman.

Hartman has lowered his target age group from 17-30 to 17-27 because of his belief that by 27 years of age most Indians have arrived at a decision as to whether they want to join the establishment or stand apart from it. ‘I have not written this book for people who swim with the tide. It has been a very painful book to write. It is so painful that the second book is going to be even nastier,’ he says as he reminds us of the part we have all played by remaining mute spectators as our land was plundered. The book documents the systemic disease that has stripped our hills bare of the forest cover and rich topsoil that has taken hundreds of years to form; our aquifers have been emptied and our ground water tables exhausted, apart from farmland becoming worthless through the inundation by the muddy waters of the mines.

Eat Dust is unflinching in its critique of the (past and present) government’s approach to mining, the pro-mining lobby’s illicit activities, and Church and media apathy. The book is at once comprehensively informative and engrossing as you stumble across titbits of news items that may have escaped your attention in your daily perusal of the newspapers, or may have been altogether left out by mainstream journalism. Hartman has interspersed cold hard facts with personal vignettes of his family’s run-ins with various antagonistic pro-mining elements. Though the general tone is sombre, there is some retelling that begs to bring a smile to your face in picturing scenes reconstructed by the author, for example his sister Cheryl taking on the Alemao brothers.

Hartman’s reminiscence of his parents gives us an understanding of the mould the author was shaped out of and his motivation to save this floundering State. He recalls how his father told him the story of his Gavde ancestor and the lesson it provided in building a disdain for caste based prejudices. He also talks about his feisty eighty year-old mother masterminding and carrying out the blockade of a mine by chaining herself and others across the gate (in 2008), in order to act on her conviction that the forests and water were far more important than money.

Hartman points out that it is the Shah Commission that deserves the distinction of having put a stop to the rape of Goa’s environment in 2012 and not Goa Foundation as many erroneously believe. He lauds the work carried out by Goa Foundation but considers it effectual only up to a certain point. He refuses to buy into the idea of the Goenchi Mati Permanent Fund, which he considers a means to stir up greed and undermine the larger problem of conserving the environment that cannot under any circumstances be bought back with money.

Hartman, who despises the epithet of ‘activist’, says, ‘I am a concerned citizen…a concerned Goan.’ He admonishes the Goan public that sits pretty in illusory neutrality. This reluctance to take a stand is deplorable and in the same vein is the attitude of those who are enthused by the removal of the ban on mining. There is a distinct lack of appreciation of the significance of the loss of ‘fossil water’ in the aquifers, and this idiocy has not been quelled even by the recent drought.

The courts and the judicial system have his contempt, so also the present educational system which seems to focus on memorising vast amounts of information and producing it at examination time, but learning nothing in the process. The school system has failed its students according to Hartman, who has had an eventful career covering education, journalism and theatre.

‘If this country is going to change, it is my solemn belief, it is not going to change with the people above the age of thirty. They have tasted the apple of the good life.’ Hartman has interacted with numerous young people through his theatre work and is convinced that the foolishness of youth is but a myth. They are far more intelligent, perceptive and sensitive than they are credited to be. He says, ‘If they have problems it is with their parents …their teachers,’ indicating the narrow confines to which parents and teachers seek to restrict the mind-sets of these young people. It is to these youth that he hands the baton of the struggle against the powers that be. They are, without doubt, the hope and promise of a better tomorrow.