- It is a go-to book for the average Indian reader looking to understand youth activist Greta Thunberg’s meteoric rise and the urgency of her activism.
- The book brings together data and anecdotes to present a forceful argument about the effects of climate change across the world.
- The author, Atul Deulgaonkar is a decorated journalist and former member of the Maharashtra State Disaster Management Authority, and has written extensively on climate change.
Veteran journalist Atul Deulgaonkar’s new book, Greta Calling: Can You Hear Me? comprises an excellent compilation of facts about climate activist Greta Thunberg and her journey from a lone kid camping outside the Swedish Parliament to a global icon. The book, published in Marathi and translated to English by Madhukar Deshpande, also provides clear and concise statistics (albeit without detailed footnotes) to give the reader a clear idea of just how bad things are at the moment, in terms of climate change and politics.
It’s impossible to escape the feeling that the English translation was written by a fond and proud grandfather in awe of Thunberg’s actions and words. But both Deulgaonkar and Deshpande convey the urgency and fear that some of the climate change-aware grown-ups might feel for the sake of their children. A desperation echoes throughout the book: Listen! Here are the facts! Think!
A millennial reader will identify with the sense of being caught between the ignorance of their parents’ generation and the responsibilities of their own children born in a world of air purifiers and pandemic lockdowns. As I write this, an elderly neighbour has dropped by with his grandson: the two-year-old refusing to take off his own tiny mask, while his grandfather hasn’t managed to get his own up past his chin.
Deulgaonkar, a decorated journalist and former member of the Maharashtra State Disaster Management Authority, handles his subject masterfully, managing to blend information and urgency in his book chapters. The 200-page volume takes us through Thunberg’s rise in popularity, interspersed with anecdotes of global political wrangling happening in the wake of speeches by her and others like her. While Deulgaonkar directs harsh criticism towards the developed world, especially the USA, his approach to the political regime in India is more cautious, conveying a sense of being both, a victim who is too ill-equipped to solve problems, and perpetrator of others it could have tackled, but didn’t and made worse.
Each book chapter is headlined by a poignant quote, setting the tone for what’s to come. And what comes is a staggering number of detailed statistics painstakingly put together from different parts of the globe. Deulgaonkar has blended both the bigger picture and the ‘devil-is-in-the-details’, perfectly capturing the domino effect of seemingly disconnected events.
The US massively bombed Iraq in 1991. The dark clouds generated did not stay put in Iraq. They travelled and were stopped by the Himalayas resulting in dark rain in Nepal.
The US bombed, Iraq suffered casualties and dark rain occurred in Nepal.
While some readers may find this a bit too stark, too shorn of details and might go looking for footnotes and sources, it is exactly the style of writing that hits the mark with the reader demographic the author is aiming for: the average Indian reader used to the ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ in popular rhetoric. Paradoxically, it also manages to escape this trap, giving clear, data-based and close-to-home anecdotes to convey just how massive and far-reaching climate change is.
A balance of horror and hope
The author’s subject, Greta Thunberg, is brought close, too, from her home life with her family in Sweden, her struggles with Asperger’s Syndrome, and the applause and condescension she endures globally. The paternalistic tone about Thunberg is unmistakable, with her being called ‘Greta’ throughout the book, but older (and largely male) world leaders and public figures addressed by their last names and titles. But perhaps this is what Deulgaonkar intended to achieve: a feeling of relatability and familiarity with a young white woman who speaks at the UN and gets revered and also mocked, with the eyes of millions upon her. He heroes her, and makes her sense of fear our own.
This is a familiar dilemma that journalists grapple with: balancing the horror and the hope. It’s evident from the author’s writing that he’s seen, reported on and suffered the horror, and holds Thunberg and her generation as the hope.
It also mirrors an old debate that climate change storytellers have faced: to write to provoke and scare, or to write with caution and hope. The 2021 film Don’t Look Up, a satirical, reverse-Armageddon, about a planet-killer headed towards Earth while people pay more attention to the way the scientists (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) look, judging one favourably and the other not, has reignited this debate. Deulgaonkar’s book is a mix of both, but it has its facts, narration, tone and audience right on target: our parents and grandparents, who often refuse to listen to our pleas to change, but who still have time to panic and agree with us, even as they might listen to Deulgaonkar, a contemporary.
Banner image: Greta Thunberg speaking at COP25. Photo by UN Climate Change/Flickr.