Cartload upon cartload of sugarcane dominates the narrow roads of Bazpur until Kashipur (in Uttarakhand, as you leave the mountains behind). So much sugarcane, you exclaim and wonder. For all the sugar in our processed food products, you soon realise. Sugar, the modern-day curse and cancer, is also a big reason for the air pollution in this region. The burning of the leftover sugar crop blackens the air like a piece of doomsday painting.

It’s a nerve-wrecking and depressing drive, especially if you are coming from the mountains of Uttarakhand. Even knowing that no pristine air awaits us in the pollution capital Delhi, we bemoan the sugarcane carts, overloaded and brimming with sugarcane on both sides to such an extent that all other vehicles have to just make way. Size scares and rules here, and how.

So we cross the Moradabad bypass and a small town called Simbhaoli. It’s dark. Actually pitch-dark because there are no road lights. So we need to be doubly watchful now, because the outlines of the sugarcane become clear only about a 100 metres away or so. These carts don’t have taillights. So when they appear, the effect is ghostlike.

Talking about things ghostly, the trees on the sides of the road have the same effect. Covered in smog, they look sinister—I remembered Voldemort’s death eaters. In which case we human beings are the death-eater creators.

In the silence of the drive, suddenly my daughter remarks, ‘not a single star in the sky, mama.’

She had been seeing a sky-full of stars the past few days in the mountains and I wondered if she had forgotten that Delhi didn’t exactly offer a clear sky either. The pollution level there had taken a turn for the worse and seemed unrelenting in its intensity. Growing up in a city without stars and rainbows has made the child keenly appreciative of such phenomena and very, very sensitive about the preciousness of these. I see her holding forth on all things ecofriendly much more articulately and passionately than many a grown men and women.

Many a grown men and women—at least in this part of the world that I have seen up, close and largely impersonally—throw their trash wherever. They are quick to dismiss any talk on protecting and preserving and respecting the earth and the environment, are nonchalant about themselves and others dirtying the spaces they inhabit, look askance at those who mention ‘responsibility’, baulk at logic, are quick to take offence, and are pretty much indifferent to stars and rainbows.

Sometimes I get this sinking feeling that all this discourse around saving our planet is doing a back and forth among those who are already aware, interested and bothered—that we are only talking among ourselves. Are we alone and isolated then? It does seem like a mighty task, to make things matter to those who are indifferent or in any case not convinced. What will it take to turn things around, or are we okay about the annual pollution cover that comes rushing in along with the sugarcane crop harvesting and the cracker bursting and so on and so forth? These are not the only culprits of course and there are cynics and naysayers who will counter whatever argument one may offer, but any beginning, however minor and however reluctantly begun, will do for now.

So let’s keep calling the culprits out, shall we? Let’s keep the sound and the fury alive, let’s believe that there are solutions to everything (including crop-residue burning), and let’s hope that eventually we won’t be leaving an inhospitable planet behind.