When it comes to climate change, we are all Maldivians!

It was Woody Allen who said ‘Ninety per cent of life is just showing up’. Well, part of the remaining 10 per cent must involve waving our hands and speaking out in this increasingly attention-challenged world.

My organisation, TVE Asia Pacific, lacks both a travel budget and a promotional budget. So I need to be both resourceful and persevering when showcasing our work in the vast Asia Pacific region and beyond. I attempt this by turning myself into a one-man cheering squad for our work in the public interest. (If this makes me something of a self-promoter, so be it!).

I was very grateful when our friends in Greenaccord accommodated my last minute request to screen our latest short film Small Islands – Big Impact at their 7th international media forum in Viterbo, Italy, today. This is what I recently made in the Maldives, one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to sea level rise.

I presented this at the end of the fourth day, soon after the gathering of 130 journalists and scientists from 55 countries had listened to 10 Climate Witnesses who travelled from far corners of the world to share their stories of ground level changes induced by climate change.

Here is what I said introducing the film:

Small and low lying island states are on the frontline of impact from climate change. That is why we made this film, so that we can highlight the plight of the Maldives in various climate related discussions around the world.

It is based on an exclusive interview that President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives gave me in August 2009. In this wide-ranging interview, he shared his concerns and visions for his island nation.

President Nasheed is an articulate, passionate climate witness on behalf of his endangered island nation of 325,000 people. The technocratic and amiable President is one of the youngest heads of state in the world today. Interestingly, he worked as a freelance journalist when he was in exile for several years, and remains very accessible to the international media.

As a journalist and broadcaster, I’ve been covering this story for over 20 years, from the late 1980s. I have seen how the vulnerability of small island states – like the Maldives – has risen up in the international discussions on climate. Sustained reporting by journalists has played a significant role in this process.

We have unfinished business. As President Nasheed says so emphatically, we are in this together. We need to work on coping and survival strategies.

When it comes to climate change, we are all Maldivians.

This is the second time a TVEAP film has been showcased at a Greenaccord event. In October 2006, the post-tsunami Asian environmental series The Greenbelt Reports was previewed at the 4th Greenaccord Forum.

Mamma Mia! Italy is really a part of South Asia!!

At Fontana Di Trevi: Guess which tourist escaped from a formal meeting?

At Fontana Di Trevi: Guess which tourist escaped from a formal meeting?

I’ve just spent a week in Rome, and felt entirely at home enjoying the hot and humid summer days and clear blue skies. The latest experience has reaffirmed my impression – formed on several visits over two decades – that Italy isn’t a part of Europe at all. It’s really an extension of South Asia.

Hanuman, the super-monkey who features prominently in the Indian epic Ramayana, is said to have carried whole chunks of the Himalayas and dropping them off in far away places. Perhaps, unknown to the chroniclers, Hanuman did some freelance transplanting in the Mediterranean.

The similarities are uncanny: Italians and South Asians have too much in common. Generalisations are dangerous, I know, but then, I’m a South Asian – we do it all the time (and get it right about half the time). So here goes…

For a start, we are both expressive people, and we have no compunction in being loud in public places. Understatement is for the polite (and dull) British; we prefer to exclaim and exaggerate. We also gesticulate wildly when we speak – there is probably an extra nerve linking our mouth with our arms.

We are opinionated and argumentative, often passionately (and needlessly) so. We can rarely agree on any matters of private or public interest, yet, almost miraculously, we manage to get by without coming to blows. Well, at least most of the time…

Heirs to rich and diverse culinary traditions, we South Asians love and cherish our food – as do the Italians. We have our rice, chapatti and roti. They have their infinite array of pastas, pizzas and lasagnas. Our youngsters may fancy an occasional hamburger, but no American fast food can ever compete with our myriad aromas and flavours perfected literally over millennia. We take pride and joy in our food, and break bread with family, friends and strangers. Given a chance, we’ll spend half our waking hours eating.

Blending old and new with ease: average Roman doesn't the burden of history

Blending old and new with ease: average Roman doesn't the burden of history

Next to food, we have an abundance of laws, rules and regulations – too many, if you ask me. But we take our laws with a pinch of salt, or more. We happily and frequently bend them that they sometimes actually snap. Then we’d say Mamma Mia or Aiyo, and just move on.

Just look at the roads, and Italy’s similarity with South Asia is immediately clear. No other western European country comes close to Italy for the sheer chaos factor. We all drive as much with our horns as with the accelerators. We curse and yell at others on the road. Our streets are crowded, noisy and messy. We ignore traffic lights, speed limits and zebra crossings. Cyclists and pedestrians move at their peril.

This completely stuns the more orderly nationals like the Japanese and Swiss, who are puzzled how we don’t have more accidents on our roads (it puzzles us too). Partly because we all try to drive like James Bond, but more because too many of us are using privately owned two, three or four wheel vehicles, we often end up going nowhere at all. Some of our big cities now have traffic almost 24/7. Ancient Romans would be impressed by how much time we spend on our roads, an invention they perfected.

Dreary babudom failed to dampen her spirit

Dreary babudom failed to dampen her spirit

It’s not just Fiats, Ferraris and Marutis that move ever so slowly as we march towards progress. If anything, the wheels of our governments are even slower. In Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes chronicles her frustrations with the local bureaucracy when she bought and renovated an abandoned villa in the Tuscany Valley. Any South Asian who has tried to engage their own governments – on property, taxes or anything else – can well and truly empathise with her experience. In these days of global warming, glaciers probably move (recede) faster than our bureaucracies.

No wonder, then, that we just love to hate our governments in Italy and South Asia – we never tire of complaining about our politicians and bureaucrats. Strangely, however, we do little to overhaul the sick system. We often put up with our bungling, lying and sometimes stealing public officials. Worse, we idolise some of the biggest offenders despite their staggering lapses or excesses, and keep re-electing them!

Ah yes, we love our elections too. Until recently, Italians used to change their governments with such regularity – it has had 62 governments in the 64 years since the Second World War ended. While no South Asian country can match this record, thank goodness, few elected governments in South Asia complete their full term. And we share with Italians a fondness for coalition governments in all their variations and vicissitudes.

Come to think of it, is there anything surprising that Italian-born Edvige Antonia Albina Maino, better known as Sonia Gandhi, is today the most powerful woman in South Asian politics? As head of both Indian National Congress and the ruling coalition, she manages a menagerie of political animals.

Our obsession with politics is amplified (and some say exploited) by our cacophonous media. Our newspapers, radio and TV titillate, enthrall and occasionally inform their audiences. Many follow their own peculiar definitions of the public interest — which includes gleefully venturing into private lives of public figures. If Italians originated the term paparazzi, the South Asian media have turned it into a fine art. Our modern pantheons include a motley collection of show biz and sporting personalities, a few of who fall from grace frequently enough to keep our industrial gos mills turning day and night.

This same nosy media somehow manage to miss out or actively avoid probing the conduct of many public officials controlling very large amounts of public funds. It’s perhaps too simplistic to say corruption, cronyism and nepotism have become deep rooted in our countries. We have institutionalised these processes so much that they have become part of our political and business landscapes. The correct euphamism for these practices is public-private partnerships.

If you think all this makes us a sleazy, unethical and uncaring lot, you’re sadly mistaken. Please be informed that Italians and South Asians are both very religious. In fact, we take our faiths very seriously indeed, and practise it with such passion that some spoilsports might call us fanatical.

It doesn’t matter in the least that we worship at different altars – Italians at their soccer stadiums, and we at our cricket grounds. Our faith is equally intense and unwavering. When you make fun of our history, governments, laws and mannerisms, we’ll laugh heartily with you. But if you dare to criticise the performance of our national sporting teams, you will immediately find what fundamentalists we really are.

Every nation must have its sacred cows, no?