Book review

The follow-up to 'The Little Prince' is a preachy self-help manual (and an insult to the original)

AG Roemmers' adventures with the Prince, now a teenager, is dense with spiritual homilies and utterly lacking in charm.

The beloved Little Prince was the child within all of us. He was the innocence and curiosity most leave behind in pursuit of “matters of consequence”. When he spoke, it was to learn more and scoff at how odd adults really are. The Little Prince didn’t understand achievements, he didn’t understand data, but he did understand the importance of loving a single flower for its uniqueness.

The character created by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery in 1943 wiggled his way into the hearts of millions of readers across the world. The book has since been established as a tale of love, loss, friendship and an allegory for war.

Saint-Exupery’s Prince, who claimed to be from a different planet, was a compelling presence in the life of the stranded pilot who answered one seemingly inane question after another (because obviously The Little Prince never gave up on a question till he got the answer). In the process, the narrator pilot did get in touch with something deep within that he had lost years ago.

Somewhere along the road to “growing up”, he had gone from being a boy who could draw a python that had swallowed an elephant whole to a tired and worried man, desperately trying to fix a plane and ration his water.

Now, almost 73 years later, the Prince finds himself on Earth again and looking for his aviator friend. He is not so little anymore. He is old enough to be called “young” now, but he is a far cry from the Little Prince who with his child-like logic was wiser than most adults. He, in fact, reminded them to never let go of the child within.

Play

The unbearable heaviness of being

In The Return of the Young Prince, Argentinian businessman-turned-writer Alejandro Guillermo Roemmers’s take-off on the beloved The Little Prince, the Prince is a weary traveller, hitchhiking down a mundane grey strip of road in the desolate landscape of Patagonia in South America. Asking the driver just as many questions and receiving answers that go on for miles.

Playing author and narrator, Roemmers picks up the Young Prince, who is lying unconscious on the side of the road, and as they journey together in his car, they engage in a conversation which becomes deeply philosophical as it progresses. A little too philosophical, in most cases.

The Little Prince had undertaken a tour of the universe many years ago and travelled far and wide, gathering pearls of wisdom from the various animals and creatures he encountered. Now that he is an adolescent, one would imagine him to be slightly more wise. But, on the road once again to visit all the planets accounted for in his universe, the Prince seems to have clung on not only to his curiosity but also to his naivéte, much like Peter Pan.

“How do I grow up without being a serious person?” he asks at one point.

Roemmers refers to some of the people, creatures and places that appear in the previous book – the flower that the Little Prince had loved so much, the sheep that he was afraid would eat his flower, the drunk man he met briefly on his travels who drank to forget, and many others. Those moments are a trip down memory lane for many who still hold The Little Prince dear in their hearts.

On this journey, the two discuss questions like “what’s a problem”, “how do you solve one?” and “how can one retrieve lost joy?” The narrator’s musings on these matters are dense, and spiritual to the point of being too abstract.

Too much author, too little prince

The weakness of The Return Of The Young Prince, which is not without its tender moments, lies in the narrator’s overbearing presence in the book. The dialogue between the two is restricted to one-line questions from the Prince and answers from the narrator spanning several pages. The Young Prince is constantly at the receiving end of sermons which become increasingly tiresome and long as the book progresses.

“When I saw that the boy was listening to me intently, I went straight on. ‘Anything you can do, once you’ve identified the difficulty, is look at it carefully, observe it from different angles, or even break it down into smaller difficulties...

‘Feelings of guilt’, I remarked, ‘paralyse us and keep us from solving a lot of problems. Taking responsibility makes those feelings disappear and allows us to do more positive things, such as making up as far as possible for the harm we’ve done. Or simply moving on and not falling back into the behaviour that made us feel guilty in the first place.’”

The preachy sequel is a far cry from the wonderfully charming original, which allowed time and space for its characters to grow, experience life, and arrive at their own conclusions.

Many will flock to buy The Return Of The Young Prince, wanting to relive the moments when they read the original, but will be disappointed by a book which could very well have been named Chicken Soup for the Little Prince’s Soul. It’s a poor follow-up to a classic, highlighting the fluff and none of the substance.

The Return of the Young Prince, AG Roemmers, Oneworld Publications.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

India’s urban water crisis calls for an integrated approach

We need solutions that address different aspects of the water eco-system and involve the collective participation of citizens and other stake-holders.

According to a UN report, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas where water is physically scarce and another 1.6 billion people, or nearly one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage. They lack basic access to water. The criticality of the water situation across the world has in fact given rise to speculations over water wars becoming a distinct possibility in the future. In India the problem is compounded, given the rising population and urbanization. The Asian Development Bank has forecast that by 2030, India will have a water deficit of 50%.

Water challenges in urban India

For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.

Any comprehensive solution to address the water problem in urban India needs to take into account the specific challenges around water management and distribution:

Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.

Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.

Water pollution and contamination: In India, almost 400,000 children die every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.

A holistic approach to tackling water challenges

Addressing these challenges and improving access to clean water for all needs a combination of short-term and medium-term solutions. It also means involving the community and various stakeholders in implementing the solutions. This is the crux of the recommendations put forth by BASF.

The proposed solutions, based on a study of water issues in cities such as Mumbai, take into account different aspects of water management and distribution. Backed by a close understanding of the cost implications, they can make a difference in tackling urban water challenges. These solutions include:

Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.

Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.

Also, alternative rain water harvesting methods such as harvesting rain water from concrete surfaces using porous concrete can be used to supplement roof-top rain water harvesting, to help replenish ground water.

Community initiatives to supplement regular water supply: Initiatives such as community water storage and decentralised treatment facilities, including elevated water towers or reservoirs and water ATMs, based on a realistic understanding of the costs involved, can help support the city’s water distribution. Water towers or elevated reservoirs with onsite filters can also help optimise the space available for water distribution in congested cities. Water ATMs, which are automated water dispensing units that can be accessed with a smart card or an app, can ensure metered supply of safe water.

Testing and purification: With water contamination being a big challenge, the adoption of affordable and reliable multi-household water filter systems which are electricity free and easy to use can help, to some extent, access to safe drinking water at a domestic level. Also, the use of household water testing kits and the installation of water quality sensors on pipes, that send out alerts on water contamination, can create awareness of water contamination and drive suitable preventive steps.

Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.

Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.

For BASF, the proposed solutions are an extension of their close engagement with developing water management and water treatment solutions. The products developed specially for waste and drinking water treatment, such as Zetag® ULTRA and Magnafloc® LT, focus on ensuring sustainability, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the water and sludge treatment process.

BASF is also associated with operations of Reliance Industries’ desalination plant at Jamnagar in Gujarat.The thermal plant is designed to deliver up to 170,000 cubic meters of processed water per day. The use of inge® ultrafiltration technologies allows a continuous delivery of pre-filtered water at a consistent high-quality level, while the dosage of the Sokalan® PM 15 I protects the desalination plant from scaling. This combination of BASF’s expertise minimises the energy footprint of the plant and secures water supply independent of the seasonal fluctuations. To know more about BASF’s range of sustainable solutions and innovative chemical products for the water industry, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.