Oil’s not well


Photo by Sabhapati Samom

A POST-PETROLEUM Arab saying goes: “My father rode a camel, I drove a car, my son flies a plane, his son will ride a camel.”

The Sheikhs probably read the signs in the sands of Arabia from the day colonial companies extracted the first barrel of crude in West Asia.

Manipur, a state in India’s northeast, has no petroleum beneath. But it has inadvertently beaten the Arabs in presenting the future of oil.

On 11 April 2009, Naga organizations imposed an economic blockade on Manipur (see Manipur, highwaylaid). It was temporarily withdrawn yesterday (June 18).

Forget the whys of the blockade. Forget the heroes and villains – depending on which side you are on – of the siege. Forget the underlying federal design of letting politically insignificant fringe communities fight each other, physically, ideologically or economically.

Manipur, during the days of the blockade, experienced what the world beyond will 50 years hence.

Imagine tomorrow today – an acute fuel crisis in New Delhi, Mumbai, Beijing, Sydney, Christchurch, London, Berlin, New York, California, Ottawa, Cape Town, Mogadishu, Moscow, Pyongyang, Riyadh or anywhere else.

Imagine your oil-starved neighborhood gas station out of business or opening once a fortnight to sell rationed petrol and diesel. At 400-600 per cent more than what you paid the day before.

Imagine paying Rs 2,000 for a cylinder of cooking gas, Rs 200 for a liter of petrol and Rs 150 for a liter of diesel. And if you can’t, stealing or killing to cook your food or keep your vehicle on liquid diet.

This reminds me of the George Miller-directed cult 1979 movie Mad Max. It transported us to a gory future where brutal motorcycle gangs rule the highways and steal fuel.

As in that action flick, you might not have a barbaric Toecutter coming after you, shotgun blazing to blow you to smithereens or electric saw whirring to slice your head off.

But there’s no stopping the oil lobby-backed wielders of smart weapons from blasting your butt off if you happen to sit on the last tank of gasoline. Even if you are not a natural enemy, they will plant an imaginary WMD on you and take your oil.

I am no economist. But I tend to agree with the pundits who say the world is driven by automobile companies that are fuelled by oil. That’s perhaps why urban planners and builders ignore the likes of Jane Jacobs to carve spread-out cities that increase the dependence on automobiles.

For Jacobs – this American-born Canadian writer-activist championed the multi-layered neighborhood concept and opposed creation of isolated, unnatural urban spaces – the congested ghats of Varanasi or the labyrinthine Old Delhi would be more of an ideal city than Gurgaon or Navi Mumbai. Where everything is nearby, negating the use of vehicles.

Fifty years later (sooner?) the world would probably rue disregarding Jacobs. Unless the non-conventional energy clique replaces the oil lobby in accelerating the automobile-driven economy.

If not, the Arabs will have no qualms about hopping on to camels. And in the hills – Manipur and Nagaland included – they will go back to riding ponies and transporting goods on mules.

That might bury economic blockades for good. For, animals don’t need highways to move essentials.

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About rahconteur

A mid-career journalist who's worked horizontally across India - from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat
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