Archive for April, 2010

It’s very difficult for most of us to willingly be part of a minority. Any minority. This is especially true of any do-good acts, so much so that there is comfort in sneering at do-gooders! Why do we have this belief that a majority if always right? In my experience, I have come to believe that a majority is NEVER right. They are merely safe, within the herd.

The majority that believes that accumulating money is the goal of life, or the majority that think humans are supreme and everything else inconsequential. The majority who believe that some things are simply the way they are because they are meant to be, and that no one person can change it, isn’t that a big majority?

The kind who refuses to accept that they have any responsibilityto anyone, besides feeding their family and themselves. They will not even cast their minds on the millions (800 million in India) who do not have food to eat every day, or a shelter above their head. They cannot be bothered by rising global temperatures (they have installed ACs at home) or disappearing fresh water.

They are secure in the crowd.

But what they miss in life, they cannot know. The joy of caring, of taking on larger responsibility, and the multiplied satisfaction of one small step towards socio-environmental justice. To that end, globalisation has brought the world closer in its shared perils. This is a time like never before when we can feel the interconnectedness of life, if we choose to. Not only to each other but to the planet and universe.

We hail from the same first living cell, or even older, from the first atomic particle that came from the singularity. On earth, the air we breathe and the water we drink are as old as the earth. Sometime, some great soul drank the same molecules as you and I do. Should that be our crowning glory or that every one of us is equally endowed?

We have in us all the makings of any mahatma. If only we could dare to be different, if only we don’t mind stepping out of the crowd.


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Bye to Papa

Papa Wakefield at his erstwhile post in the verandah, surveying...

A sad day. I read in the papers of the demise of Papa John Wakefield, the mascot of Kabini River Lodge. At 94, he had lived his life but yet, this feeling of loss. Again the same questions. Why?

And then, it was not even as though I knew the man so well. Of course I had met him thrice and on all occasions sat with him for a few hours, listening to him recounting tales and in between answering my questions. There was something homely or is it welcoming about him as also something endearing.

Picturising him in his chair, guarding the sparrows against the monkeys with his catapult hanging on the hand rest, I feel a loss. Maybe I will never go to KRL but still, a few blanks added.. one another memory gone, one another familiar voice gone… it is one another string snapped in the many many connections life is built of.

Maybe I feel like this due to our shared concern for forests and wildlife.. ?? Whatever, I wish I had made that phone call to Papa which I kept putting off as though he were immortal. Always like that, aren’t we? Just a bit late.

Farewell Papa, and thanks for everything you did.

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Earth Day

It was Earth Day yesterday. True, for people who are truly greateful to the planet, there is no need for a day. Every day is a thanksgiving one to this blue gem racing across a dark sky, carrying 6.2 billion plus more lives. For those who are just beginning to realise the huge debt we owe the earth, this is a chance to change ways. Simple things that start at home with the way we use energy and water, the way we use things, the things we eat, etc.

An interesting excerpt from Jiddu’s talk in the TOI yesterday compared our lives to the stagnant pools besides running rivers. We resist change and seek security in stability and remain in our stagnant pools instead of flowing with the river of life. For that we need to be ready to accept change in our lives every moment.

Yes, we have been doing things in a certain way and we have found comfort in that. But sometimes we need to take drastic changes in our stride for the larger good. This may cause some discomfort to begin with. But what the hell, don’t we owe that much to life on this beautiful planet?

It is time we started to care for more than our precious selves. The trees, the birds, the animals may all seem incidental but are not. They are vital linchpins that hold up the ecosystem that makes life possible for us. It is time we started to think of future generations and what we are leaving for them. Are we leaving a large rubbish pile for them?

On Earth Day, let us just start thinking a bit.

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Win some, lose some

Eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland shows once again the power of Nature, and how powerless we humans are. Volcanic ash, which is made up of tiny glass shards that are carried aloft in a foamy mix of steam, can damage jet engines by melting right inside them and causing them to seize up. Not just upsetting flights, the ash has traveled as far away as Norway. Residents from a number of central Norwegian cities reported the smell of sulphur in the air, and some residents in northern Norway reported finding volcanic ash on their automobiles.

The ash gets shot high into the air as magma that was once deep in the Earth comes to the surface and is depressurized. The eruption could even continue for a year or more.

It is all about tectonics, just as earthquakes are. Earthquake in China and now Afghanistan are steadily claiming lives. We still have no way of predicting quakes or volcanoes.

But we are getting near imitating Nature in many other ways. Take for instance genetic engineering which began with the celebrated Dolly. She was born after 237 eggs were used to create 29 embryos, which only produced three lambs at birth, only one of which lived. Dolly grew from an egg cell which had its own nucleus removed and replaced with the nucleus of a body cell from a six-year old adult sheep.

The fascination with genetic engineering has been more to do with medical benefits than cloning. For instance, animals with human genes could be used to produce hormones or other biological products to treat human diseases. And sure it has been done. With cows and pigs and what not.

Canada recently approved limited production of animals dubbed “enviropigs™,” a genetically modified breed of pigs producing up to 65% less phosphorous in pig poo and urine.

Phosphorous is a fertilizer. Phosphorous in animal and human wastes runs off or discharges to surface waters, where it spurs large algal blooms. The algae use up the oxygen in the water, leaving behind a “dead zone,” an area of lake, river, or ocean where nothing can live. So can we make the animals less of a nuisance? Yes, enviropigs!

Phosphorous plays an essential role in the growth of bones, construction of DNA and RNA, and in regulating cell and organ processes. But most of the phosphorous in a grain-based diet are bound up as organic complexes which pigs cannot digest. Supplementing pig diets with phytase, an enzyme, did the trick.

That’s all fine but do we have the right to tamper with a pig’s genetic make-up? Next I guess will be some genetic fixing of cattle that belch unwanted methane. Given that global warming has been proved to be anthropogenic in its extent, how about doing something about the human gene? Maybe something that will make us less demanding and more joyful?

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Love embodied

Talking about Nature, birds, flowers, and then about music, all that give joy, how can I forget love? But then, without love, we are not really humans I believe. This is more than about caring, for animals do that anyway. And yes, they love too. I can never forget my last dog Juno, a lovely creature so full of love and wanting only love…. the day she died on the vet’s table that March 30, 2008 will never leave my memory. One moment tail all wagging to all around, next moment on the table, all muzzled, the sheer fright took away her life. I remember the last look in her eyes, of fear and pain. My dearest Juno…. she was love personified.

But  back to humans and that emotion we call love. What is it? Why do we love? I like to think it is an essential part of our package. Some get lavish doses, some little. But all of us have the same capacity to love. We get inhibited by various factors.

My experience – and I do not speak of the romantic variety alone – is that in loving we take ourselves to another plane. We start caring and wanting to protect more than our precious selves! Where we transcend our physical boundaries, our selfish wants, and encompass the object of our love. It is, as philosophers may say, extending our limits.

No wonder we sing and smile and feel joyous when we love. Love enhances our potential in all spheres. But often this experience happens only when we get an equal measure back. Or when the person is related to us through blood or ties. Right? How many of us can really love without expectations of a return? How many can feel the high of simply loving? Anybody or anything. Try it. It is a great feeling. Try it with the disappearing trees… how much they give, and we hack them with no thought. When I see a tree, I can feel a surge of love. Not because it gives me oxygen, nor the beauty I can experience. I simply love.

Look at the racing humanity when travelling by bus or train… focus on anyone and turn on the tap of love… however mad this may seem, it is a great feeling. Am I turning saintly here? No way. I have a long way to go before that. But I do believe I am at the start of a great journey. Of love.

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About a lizard

All of a sudden one day, I saw her when I entered the bath. She dashed for cover in her squiggly way, a small little lizard. From then onwards, she inevitably showed herself up from some corner as I entered her home.

I got used to her. I even started talking to her at times (do I hear some tsk, tsk sighs?!) but of course, she didn’t respond! It did look like food was scarce as we hardly have any insects in our new home. She did look like she was getting lean.

And a month later, she was found dead. Her small lifeless body evoked such strong feelings in me, I wondered about myself. Do ‘normal’ people go grieving for a lizard? But then, why not? Does size matter in the subject of affection or compassion?

But wait, why do we cry at all when someone/thing dies? Actually speaking, it is a selfish act, right? We cry because we will miss the person (or lizard!) and not because the dead are gone into a horrible world. If we could understand that death is not to be feared and that the next journey not as bad as hot, burning oil cauldrons and horned entities, would we cry or rejoice? Rejoice that the soul has progressed…

Even if we do not believe in a soul, why do we cry except for selfish reasons?

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The food of love

Remember the lines, if music be the food of love, play on… yes, let’s talk about music this time.

Music, or the experience of music, is universal. It can bring tears to our eye, a shiver down the spine and even raise the soul to a high. Music can burst upon us anywhere – at work, when happy, or bored or sad, when alone or in a crowd. Life without music is like life without joy.

Research also tells us how important music is to the development of our brain and overall growth. At a recent American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, it was concluded that music training has profound effects that shape the sensory system and should be a mainstay of education. Studies have found overlap in the brain’s processing of language and instrumental music, and new research suggests that intensive musical therapy may help improve speech in stroke patients. And children with developmental dyslexia or autism more accurately encode speech.

Using brain images of people listening to short symphonies by an obscure 18th-century composer, a research team from the Stanford University School of Medicine showed that music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory.

We really don’t need that affirmation, do we? Most of us realise the importance of music. And each of us have our favourites, or specials. To me, it has always been Kishore Kumar. His voice, his songs and that something else  undefinable, have been pure magic. It can take me to seventh heaven and beyond. 

I have wondered many times, what is the special something that binds me to KK. Yes, binds. We all are, aren’t we to someone or some thing? I have no answer. I know it is not just his voice, or his technique. All that and more. Whetever it be, I can say categorically that there is no person who has given me as much joy in this life as he! Remote distance joy?! And given only joy.

So does it matter if it is just a disembodied voice? As long as the object is a source of joy, anything wrong in worshipping? kitna madhur kitna madhir tera mera pyar…  From that point, I can understand what fans experience in the life and death of their idols. When your singlemost source of joy is gone, you naturally grieve.

Luckily, for me KK lives on forever and everywhere. His sound waves are even now permeating some part of the universe, spreading joy…

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