When the earth sizzles like a hot pan, the air broils around you in serpentine hisses and every daft of wind feels like a feverous slap around your face, you know you have moved a step closer to the proverbial Gehenna.
Wikipedia says ‘The oldest historical reference to the valley is found in Joshua 15:8, 18:16 which describe tribal boundaries. The Book of Isaiah does not mention Gehenna by name, but the “burning place” 30:33.
In the synoptic gospels Jesus uses the word Gehenna 11 times to describe the opposite to life in the Kingdom (Mark 9:43-48). It is a place where both soul and body could be destroyed (Matthew 10:28) in “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43).
As a scorching mid-summer heat wave swells through the middle earth (here read South India) people and animals pant with restless apprehension. Mercury levels have been steadily rising every summer making open spaces dreadfully inhospitable and daytime a living hell. Men abandon the outdoors and seek refuge in synthetic mega-structures of shopping centers and high-rise gated communities. Greasy loud diesel generators churning out an in vitro environment. There are no trees, no birds, no herds, no wells, no lakes. Some disappeared, some fast dwindling. What’s left is the hoarse hoot of a tepid, endless wind.
Had Gehenna been of modern times, would this have been how it could be described as??…
There has never been any dearth of crime and sin in Middle Earth (read India), from time immemorial dowry deaths, satis, child marriage, female infanticide, rapes, domestic violence, honor killings, plesbecite hijacking, corruption, nepotism, feudal subordination and some more, flower the ill-famed menu that usually acquaint India to the world. However, there were other better fairer feathers in its cap like the Vedas and their insurmountable wisdom, the yoga and its resurgence as a spiritual healing practice, Ayurveda with its simple earth bound knowledge, the rare Kohinoor diamond, largest in the world, spices that drew white men to its shore and of course the monsoons.
Middle EArth ( India), at 47 degree C, may have a close kinship with the proverbial Gehenna. With enough blood, grime, dirt and disease we have established ourselves as a place rife with sin. Here is where the sinners are sent, here is where they thrive and here is where they await atonement. Usually, the men and beast of Middle Earth dance the dirty dance year long in crazy pursuits of pleasure and pain but wait eagerly for the Monsoons to come and wash away the muck. They celebrate and rejoice the giving up of the parched earth to the explosive rains with gay abandonment. They bathe, frolic, immerse, revel and ritualize with such equal euphoria all around that its said that “Rains in India is the best leveler”. At once the mood turns festive.
Yet, today and for some time the monsoons are far from coming, the heat surges on, stray dogs and cows drop by road sides out of fatigue, people caught un-prepared collapse with dehydration, children and seniors come down with serious heat strokes. We continue to cut trees, fill our water bodies with waste and use fossil fuel to run our vehicles.
Monsoons are very unique to India’s typical topography. Fenced off on its northern boundaries by the Himalayas, Hindukush, Bay of Bengal on east, Arabian Sea on west and the Indian ocean in the south, this rare composition creates a contained climatic phenomenon. When the intense summer heat had ravaged the land enough, a loci of high temperature and low pressure is created inland, somewhere in the epicenter of the rhomboidal shaped subcontinent. The water bodies around it remain at lower temperature and relatively higher pressure (conduction is slower in water hence gain and loss of heat is at a slower pace). A cycle of convection is set up whereby cool sea breezes are generated to fill up the void of air pressure inland. These are the much awaited South Westerleys or the SW monsoons. However, the sub-continent is a large land mass and convection currents alone may not be enough to alleviate its woes. One needs to scaffold it with reimbursing water back into the atmosphere, viz. the water cycle. Trees play an important role is returning water to the air and holding water within the soil.
Though Middle Earth sizzles now under the blazing sun, the rains show promise, the men arrested their debauchery and the wind is quiet. Its time to step back and deliberate. Through baked lips, lets make a vow to restore a few trees…..