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How nature’s call got a bad rap

Why Mother Nature is offended by her scatological reference

Written by Ranjit Lal |
February 14, 2021 6:20:20 am
nature, sunday eyeThe Incredibles: Nature has astounding miracles, like a dilettante butterfly (Photo credit: Ranjit Lal)

There cannot be a more degrading and disgusting reference to Mother Nature — a time-honoured cliché used by the mass media — than to refer to someone who’s gone to the toilet (or “twilet”, as some say). Invariably, news report mention: so-and-so had gone to “answer nature’s call” when, say, the leopard attacked him/her or criminals beat him up.

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Mother Nature must feel humongously offended and insulted by this. It implies that the only time we remember her or hear her call us is when we need to pee or crouch down in the fields to unload ourselves. I’ve no idea how or when this term originated but it is high time it took a dump. Banned, free speech be damned!

If the lockdown has taught anything, it is that nature’s call means something completely different — we need and yearn for Mother Nature while pretending that she is redundant and obsolete. People stuck indoors spent hours staring out of their windows. The simple bottomline is that we do not belong indoors. Recently, I spent a week in the hospital after having been stuck at home for months, and the thing that made me recover the quickest was the huge plate-glass window that looked out over a vast expanse of sky and trees. You could see wheeling kites, pigeons rushing around dementedly, and the occasional hornbill pair flying to and fro. The room, from 11 am to late afternoon, would be gilded in sunshine — the other turbo tonic I needed.

Even sanitised and sterilised “natural” environments, like golf courses, do fulfill this need to some extent, though, as Jay Griffiths writes in her brilliant book, Wild: An Elemental Journey (2006), “on a golf course, nature is neutered” and that “golf turns outdoors into indoors”. Yet, one would rather be out on a golf course than in a multiplex or shopping mall.

For most of us, the “call of nature” means trips to wilder places: national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, beaches, or simply treks and hikes in the hills, mountains and forests, which, alas, our governments are hell-bent on destroying in the name of “devlopement”.

“Nature’s call” is the growl of a tiger, the snarl of a leopard, the hoot of an owl, the song of the shama, the sound of wind rushing through the pines like the surf on the beach, the thump and boom of waves crashing on rocks, the rumble of thunder — like artillery guns opening fire, the searing crack and flash of lightning — and the soft whisper of rain.

It makes us look with wonder at the wonderful venation of a leaf, the astounding miracle pulled off by a gluttonous caterpillar as it changes into a dilettante butterfly, the silver mountains floating in the middle of the sky and, at night, the humbling sight of millions of diamond stars scattered across black-velvet skies, as a butter-gold moon rises majestically.

It’s what makes so many of us do crazy things to prove our worth or pretend we can “conquer” nature. We try to sail around the world solo in a cardboard catamaran, or climb Everest naked, or cross a mile-deep gorge on a high-wire thread. Many macho bucks, while in awe of nature and her creations, from the mighty elephant to ferocious fire ants, seem to believe that every creature in the wild has a personal vendetta against them and behave (“weaponise”) accordingly. Some, to show their great survivability when “stranded” in the wild, will crunch up scorpions and squeeze balls of elephant dung for water (“hydration”). Others will befriend big cats or big bad wolves until their faces are ripped off. Some will dance with venomous snakes or “wrestle” with crocodiles.

For sensible folks, just being outdoors is enough: admiring the fiery red and black of a scarlet minivet, or gasping as a tiger emerges from the golden grass with more dignity than a head of state, listening with a wry smile to a demented cuckoo calling ad nauseam, “one more bottle! One more bottle!”, all morning.

A dazzling iridescent beetle lands on a bloom and you wonder if it has any idea how beautiful it is, even as a yellow wasp glowers menacingly at you out of “Martian” eyes, its pincers at the ready. A moth, wearing a creamy cape, sits placidly on a wall alongside another, perfectly matched to the wall it is on: sensible, for birds are on the lookout for breakfast.

Flowering trees, demure and innocent one day, explode into bloom the next: some like the palash and silk cotton opening up their nectar bars to a host of dizzily partying birds and small mammals. Every silk-cotton bloom is said to hold one teaspoon (or 5 ml) of nectar, which, for a small bird, would be a very burra peg. This is what the call of nature is! Not going to the “twilet”.

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