Thursday, December 29, 2016

What technology?

Tsering Dolma is not at home. Although the house and outbuildings are abandoned, provisions are stored away for the coming winter. So although the place has a Marie-Celeste atmosphere, there is perhaps no mystery - just a temporary absence. Water comes from a six inch pipe running all the way up to a cistern fed by a mountain stream below Shade. But the pipe has long since fractured. There is no water. Tsering Dolma's possessions remain, despite the locked doors. At first they're hard to make out amongst the dirt and mud bricks, but slowly they reveal themselves. This building is well stocked. In fact it is bristling with technology - farming implements fashioned from wands of willow - a rake, a hoe, a basket weave cradle for flattening the earth after ploughing, all carefully stowed in the roof space, or jutting out from holes in the brick work. This is the technology of subsistence farming, of a low impact bonding with the land. the only absence is Tsering Dolma herself, but you can see that she is held in a network of relationships - with locals, the monks from Phuktar, her yak, the sheep her companion species, these tools and the land she scrapes her living from. What we call technology, our phones, our cameras, and our tablets would be of little use to her. They would play no part. And besides there is no electricity, no signal, no internet. And if you imagined what might improve her quality of life it would be none of this. It would be more likely to be a pair of thick woollen socks for the winter. That and someone to fix several miles of six inch pipe. But with no utilities, public or private, that would require an attentive and caring regional authority. Or very generous neighbours with nothing else to attend to. So perhaps now that we have more or less abandoned that Victorian notion of human progress, of cultural development, of economic growth and the relentless march forwards, our place in the world in all its diversity needs to be re-thought. You see Tsering Dolma has a different relationship with the world. Better? Worse? These evaluations hardly seem appropriate. Zanskar is a very different world and one that is separated from ours by a wide margin, and this gap throws ideas of wealth, of relationship and of technology into confusion. Care has been taken in amassing a good collection of juniper that is piled on a makeshift table in a small room near Tsering Dolma's house. A celebratory light breaks through the simple window. Does anyone have what they need?