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Engineering Self Destruction – Man vs. Nature

 

Yesterday evening while returning home I saw some shepherds herding livestock along the road. The shepherds, sheep and cattle looked famished. I wondered where the sheep and cattle would forage in this concrete jungle. Our multistory apartment blocks and office complexes have swallowed their grazing land. The displaced domestic animals in turn invade and graze inside protected sanctuaries threatening whatever remains of wildlife. We came across different versions of this story during our visits to wildlife preserves and sanctuaries like Corbett, Chambal, Sariska, Bhindawas, and Bharatpur.
 
 The adverse impact on environment due to our indiscriminate proliferation and exploitation is enormous. Peter Matthiessen evocatively described it in the following passage from “The Snow Leopard”.

“One day this boy and other will destroy that forest, and their sheep fields will erode in rain, and the thin soil will wash away into torrents, clogging the river channels farther down so that monsoon floods will spread across the land. With its rapidly increasing population, primitive agriculture, and steep terrain, Nepal has the most serious erosion problem of any country in the world, and the problem worsens as more forests disappear in the scouring of the land for food and fuel; in eastern Nepal, and especially the Kathmandu valley, firewood for cooking (not to speak of heat) is already precious, brought in by peasants who have walked many miles to sell the meager faggots on their backs. The country folk cook their own food by burning cakes of livestock dung, depriving the soil of the precious manure that would nourish it and permit it to hold water. Without wood humus or manure, the soil deteriorates, compacts, and turns to dust, to be washed away in the rush of the monsoon.”

The repercussions of our actions may not be immediately discernible. However, the accumulation of these tiny, seemingly inconsequent acts finally garners sufficient momentum to threaten our existence. Cigarette packs come with warnings in block letters that smoking is injurious to health. But these are ignored since smoking doesn’t kill instantly. Yet, each inhalation progressively harms lungs until it collapses. Right now, ignoring the warning signs of climate change, oil crisis and food scarcity we too blissfully march on to the sound of our death knells.Our callousness to nature can be partly blamed on the implicit assumption that we are superior to it. Most of us vicariously experience wilderness through TV, movies, documentaries, magazines or books instead of being in direct contact with nature. An average city dweller is more familiar with man-made structures from childhood, more used to horns and roar of vehicles than birdcalls, piped water instead of wells or a stream, cityscapes rather than jungles or farmlands. Encounter with animals is limited to stray dogs and cats, cattle and donkeys ensconced on the roads, an occasional monkey, squirrels, pigeons or crows. For the most part these are considered a nuisance or at most a curiosity. Regarding animals in captivity, we feel pity or a sense of wonder, knowing full well that their life or death rests upon our choice. In villages and farms thriving on agriculture, attitude towards farm animals remain utilitarian and often cruel. Habituated to such transcendence over animal and plant life, armed with religious authority which grants right of man over nature and intoxicated with technological accomplishments we soon develop a false sense of “superiority” over Nature.

 

Inebriated by success we have arrogated the role of master and commander of the world to ourselves intending to control and manipulate it without realizing that we are a manifestation of nature. We are forged from its elements into which we return when we die. Our lives are intimately woven into nature’s scheme of things. By wrecking havoc to our environment we are endangering our own lives. Though we may laugh at his stupidity, we are no different from Kalidasa when he attempted to chop off the branch in which he was sitting unmindful that he would fall along with it.

 

It is only when faced with natural disasters and calamities that our respect and awe of nature returns. Then we sink to our knees and pray to gods to save us. These gods, omniscient, omnipotent and always favouring man has consistently failed to live up to our expectations. This should have warned us long back that they are a figment of our imagination. With more disasters lined up for the future that realization is far from likely. Going by the indications, our religious fervour is likely to increase.

 

William Blake wrote in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.”

The doors of our perception are painted black by the carbon we relentlessly spew into the atmosphere. Soon, we would be groping blindly and gasping for breath inside the caverns. The choice is ours and the time is now. Right now we have to tools and the technology to cleanse our doors of perception. If we let the status quo prevail, our only chance to perceive infinity would be lost forever.

 

 

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