The right push

Published: Saturday 28 February 2009

Locusts have a chemical rush that changes their behaviour, a lot of us also need a tickle

according to the Old Testament, Egypt's eighth plague was brought about by locusts. The swarm consumed all crops. Only areas inhabited by the Israelites were spared. The prophet Moses saw the hand of god in the insect attacks.

Some societies still consider insect attacks divine providence, but increasingly humankind sought answers in science. Locusts continued to baffle scientists for years. Many have racked their brains to find out why a normally reclusive creature gangs up in fearsome swarms. Scientists in universities in the UK and Australia claimed to have solved the riddle. Population explosion, hunger and a chemical called serotonin are behind the shy, retiring creature taking its angry avatar. Continued tickling of hind legs in crammed areas produces serotonin leading the locusts to change behaviour.

All creatures have serotonin. It influences how humans behave and interact. Farmers at Wadwali village in Maharashtra are sure to dismiss such talk as mumbo-jumbo. But their behaviour has of late undergone change. They are constantly on guard against sand mining which has already put paid to their village's water resources. Rivulets have disappeared and one can see rocks in place of sandy riverbeds that once helped retain water.

Conflicts such as the one in Wadwali are commonplace in new India--economic recession notwithstanding. It is not just in rural India that unregulated industry has come in conflict with local people. Ask the residents of Vasant Kunj in New Delhi--a colony that has thrived on the bounties of economic boom. People of the locality have to live with a constant drone from the skies. No, the offenders in this case are not locusts. They are emblems of new India: aircraft. Vasant Kunj is only a few kilometres from Delhi's airport.

In September last year, the airport got a new runway. And with it the ruckus from the skies got even louder. Schoolchildren, patients in hospital, the old and the infirm have to bear with an aircraft passing over their heads every 3-4 minutes. Sometimes, they whirr so low, one can even see the airline logo.

The new runway got the green signal without an environment impact assessment. But then what is new? Are we waiting for a serotonin gush to change matters.

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