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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Return to Innocence: Why humans still respond to the tug of nature

We are still creatures of nature, no matter how much we fiddle with our genes and try and insert robots into our systems.

Written by Ranjit Lal | New Delhi | Updated: May 10, 2020 5:57:53 pm
animals in quarantine ranjit lal sunday eye indian express news animals in lockdown dogs on street lockdown quarantine Home and the wild: Animals step out as humans are locked in. (Photo: Amit Mehra)

As we barricade ourselves indoors, animals and birds seem to be rediscovering the spaces we snatched away from them. Whether it’s a fawn frolicking and freaking out on a deserted beach, or a column of elephants parading through what seems to be a coffee estate in Coorg, or deer resting like cows in the middle of the street, or walking tentatively downtown — they’re being seen and videoed from cities and towns all over the world.

But for me, easily the most wonderful clip (till date) has to be one of those leviathan whales rising from the deep, allegedly from the base of the Bombay High platform, like huge living submarines conjured up by a magician of the deep. A pod of at least three: a family? Rising like magic from the murky blue and blowing they’re spumed as they surfaced. It was almost as though they came around just to check on us: “You guys okay? You haven’t been making your usual jackhammer racket for days now or mucking up the water — all well with you?”

This is allegedly a “fake” video: the whales were nowhere near Bombay High. But that, if anything, makes it better. Whoever made it understood what our attitude towards animals ought to be and those expressions of wonder and disbelief perfectly expressed that. Here were hard-bitten hard hats being gobsmacked by these giants.

The lesson was clear: despite all our efforts to create a synthetic, artificial world made of shiny metal and plastic and cement, we are still creatures of the wild, or at least of nature. That’s where we still belong, no matter how much we fiddle with our genes and try and insert robots into our systems. That’s why I’ve never been to taken in by all our ambitious plans of “colonising” planets like Mars.

Our spirits would wither and die in no time at all, surrounded by such bleak lifelessness; we’d be looking towards earth with yearning all the time. And no, creating a “natural world” under gigantic fishbowl domes is not going to cut the mustard. It’s as abhorrent as neatly trimmed lawns and topiary and plants growing artificially out of water doctored with nutrients. Would you rather swallow a pill that contained your requisite 2,000 calories per day plus vitamins, or enjoy a delicious and fragrant meal (even better if cooked by someone else!)?

Drop a bunch of stuffy, supercilious socialites on a deserted island and make them fend for themselves and you can bet that they’ll become as feral and shaggy as goats in days! Folk dances around the world have borrowed heavily from the dances of birds like cranes and pheasants — and for much the same purpose. (The manakin was “moon-walking” much before Michael Jackson.) The natural wild world keeps seeping into our psyches whether we’re aware of it or not. That single mechanical invention — the internal combustion engine – has changed the way we move about like nothing else.

Yet, what are the engines that impress us the most? Those deep-throated growlers — or banshee shriekers — remind us of where we really came from and belong. Take away the Bullet’s angry animal rumble and what will you be left with? Look at the names of some of our automobiles and planes: Mustang, Barracuda, Jaguar, Puma, Tiger, Thunderbird, Hawk, Stingray, Falcon, Foxbat, and last but not least, Batmobile! Sports cars are designed to resemble crouched carnivores, ready to pounce, with powerful haunches and aggressive faces. They’re sleek and sinuous like the predators of the deep.

Perhaps, we should take a cue from that animal that we’ve domesticated for over 30,000 years, who we regard as our “best friend” — the dog. Over the millennia we’ve bred them to do virtually everything, from herding sheep, to guard duty, to hunting and retrieving, to doing ridiculous tricks in dog shows and looking after those with special needs and sniffing out drugs at airports.

Yet, take a pack of the most highly specialised, highly trained and highly pedigreed pooches, and leave them together for a while without interference — and see how quickly they revert to being the ancestors they descended from wolves!

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should also revert to being a primitive man! But just that we are as much a part of the wild, natural world as any other creature. Spend a morning in a glassed-in shopping mall — and then one by a quiet riverside, watching dragonflies hunt and herons fish, and see which experience you’ll be the richer for. We’ve dissed on nature for millennia — and now nature has locked us up all indoors.

All we can do is peer longingly out of our windows at clear blue skies, glittering trees, exotic birds and maybe elephants doing jaunty flag marches past us! Or be properly wonderstruck — and surely humbled — when the giants of the ocean rise to check on how we’re doing.

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