Spotting dung (gobar) in the streets reminds me of political philosopher Jeremy Waldron who said ‘things are not quite as they seem’, which provides me with an illuminating example of what the bovine of the world drops first thing at dawn. It is the most stubborn and intractable truth of all times that one can’t milk a cow without getting gobar as a gift. Much before the market could innovate ‘buy one get one free’ dictum, rural households were already adept to it as a grossly accepted norm ever since.
No wonder, people learnt to live with gobar which is unceremoniously scattered almost everywhere. Like others, I do realize its ritual significance amidst cultural traditions but am concerned about its unfinished story plastered as cakes on village walls and as dung-pyramids dotting the landscape. Least said, a milk-nation is as much a gobar-country. Curiously, no one seems to have any obligation to turn things around on gobar despite some five million tons of which is on offer in the country on a daily basis.
With its daily replenishment, gobar is a deceptively simple raw material that has shown immense conversion value. Its nutritive worth for crops and energy value as fuel runs into billions of rupees, worthy of making the market go bullish. In addition, gobar has intangible gains far too many to count with its climate-friendly credentials of trapping soil carbon only beginning to be realized. Billed as being anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and thermally insulating, paint made out of it is the latest in the list of gobar virtues.
Despite a growing list of virtues, one wonders why good ideas about gobar have lacked systematic promotion? Not really, as noted economist E F Schumacher had pulled it out from the near abyss by advising the government to get gas and manure out of it, through what became known as a biogas or gobar gas, in 1981. In the forty years that have gone by, not only has the ambitious program of building 12 million biogas units fell short of the target by over seventy per cent but has more dysfunctional and defunct units to its credit.
It may read like a fairy tale on unsuccessful attempts at quietude but gobar has continued to act like a periscope of ideas to tease creative minds. Like most bakery products, sun-baked dung cakes can now be ordered online. While placing an order be sure upfront on how you intend dealing with it! Perhaps, more attractive is the recent proposal by the Chhattisgarh government to buy gobar for Rs 2 per kilo at farmers doorsteps. Seemingly relevant, it seems a work-in-progress at unlocking the true value of gobar. Amen!
I wonder why is it that when it comes to gobar we are neither truly empathetic nor fully prepared, only eager to chuck for the sake of making a new proposal. In the world of comfortable interiors, cultural seduction of popular idiom Gobar-Ganesh (meaning clumsy or stupid) plays heavy on our psyche. Unless we alert ourselves from being lout in our dealing on gobar, both as a resource as well as an idea, the bovine droppings will continue to cast its proverbial impact on us.
(Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer on development issues based in New Delhi, India)