It was four in the evening and I was returning to my home and work place, Udaipur after a month-long break. I live in a room located in an Ashram campus surrounded by the Aravalli hill ranges. As soon as I entered my room, I was welcomed by a swarm of wasps hovering and building a hive in my room. Although I wanted to co-exist, as it was a very small room, I felt a little threatened and requested a farm staff Rafeeq ji to evacuate the wasps from my room. Villagers usually do this by bringing some smoke below the hive which makes the wasps fly away. What he said next shook me from within. He said, “Dusk is approaching and if I chase them away now, they will not get chance to rebuild their home or find one by night time, let us do this tomorrow morning.” Deeply touched, I moved my bags and spent the night at another place.
I am trekking on a difficult terrain where I have to climb a really steep hill. I am tired, struggling to keep my peace and calm. I start losing hope. A co-traveller and nature admirer, Mihir brought comfort and peace to my mind inviting me not to resist falling. He put his hands on the hill, asked me to do the same and said, “Trust this hill; he has been here for ages. Surrender yourself, he won’t let you fall. You will be taken care of.”
A shaman (traditional healer), Koitso Salil from Sikkim, in his interaction mentioned a very fascinating practice of the tribal societies he has been part of and witness to. These communities, he said, would never go trekking on mountains and hills. They don’t feel the need to. The only time they do is while grazing their livestock and that too, not without seeking permission from the mountains to do so. The purpose is never to trek, climb or conquer a hill. I realised that I too had never seen any villagers walking aimlessly or going for a trek in the hills I live close to. They revere the hills as an elder, someone as mighty as God. The whole idea of conquering Everest or any other mountain range or crossing the English Channel became meaningless to me. How can I climb on to or conquer someone who is a relative, an elder, a friend or a fatherly figure?
Incidents like these have changed the way I perceived nature and have brought richness to my relationship with her. Thich Nhat That, a spiritual philosopher, very beautifully puts it across. He says, “What do you see in a piece of paper? If you are a poet, you will see clearly a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain and thus no trees and no paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist, and if we look deeper into the paper, we see sunshine, the logger who cuts the tree, his parents, etc. So we can say that all of them are interconnected. They are inter-beings. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.” Inviting this idea of inter-connectedness into my conscience itself has been a humbling experience. Unfortunately there’s something that causes a separation – a wall that hinders me from seeing that what I do to this piece of paper or to any possible inter-being, I do to myself.
There are two prominent relations human society has with nature: First, we see her as something to be fearful of. In the campus I live on in the Aravallis, I have seen people packing their bags and running away overnight from the fear of lizards and snakes. I have myself killed some mosquitoes, ants, crickets, cockroaches, rats and a few other small creatures and I’ve realised it was nothing but fear on my part to do so. While living in Bangalore, my room was one night occupied by ants – the roof, floor, walls, and every other possible corner. I was taken aback and killed some in haste. Early next morning, there was no sign of them. They'd come and gone. I felt sorry for the ants I'd killed. They were sort of my guests for the night. The more I become accustomed to the urban concrete life, the more is the fear within and less is the feeling of co-existence. My niece resists jumping into the soil; she feels that would dirty her.
The English language reserves the pronoun ‘who’ for humans and uses ‘that’ for non-humans.
In our second relationship with nature, we see her as a resource to be used. We have been taught in our schools to differentiate between living and non-living things, we have been taught how different places are rich in different mineral and metal resources. The English language too reserves the pronoun ‘who’ for humans and uses ‘that’ for non-humans. Sadly, the moment we turn our relatives into an object it becomes so easy to perpetuate violence on them because they are no more seen as living beings. Indicators of our personal and national progress - the Gross Domestic Product also measures dead over living entities.
If you sit and relax under a tree with contentment, it won’t add to GDP, but cutting and selling it would. If you walk on a hill with your friends, it won’t add to the GDP but blasting the whole living hill and selling the ore beneath him would. We revere mother Earth saying ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and then insist on buying and selling the same land. Our fascination and supremacist attitude towards human life and our contempt for other lives as lowly or lower births also adds to this hierarchy and violence.
Over the last 7 years, I have been trying to dismantle these dangerous perceptions within me, with the youth I work with at Swaraj University as well as outside that. My pursuit is the healing of our relations with the Earth and shifting from an Earth-dominating to an Earth-honouring lifestyle. Apart from reducing our consumption, some of the ways to do this include: Spending a couple of hours observing a living organism (other than humans and the other large mammals we usually see), spending long silent time on the mountains with no agenda and no gadgets – just being there like any other piece of rock, rolling over the soil, smelling and listening to the Earth, walking across a stream or river barefoot and experiencing water and the wisdom it carries. The intention is not to study nature or have an adventure, but to acknowledge her sacredness, respect her presence and get in touch with the abundance she holds. And then, when we visit extraction and mining sites or dumping yards, we also witness the separation that is the result of our lifestyle.
The next step for me and the community I live in towards imbibing inter-connectedness is to invite all beings into our decision-making – inviting someone who speaks for the rock, someone who speaks for the jackals, and someone who speaks for the grasshopper to be able to peacefully co-exist with our extended family and to realise that we do not own the Earth, the Earth owns us.
Rahul currently works as a facilitator at an alternative learning space called Swaraj University (www.swarajuniversity.org). Part of his work is to create safe spaces for the learners to share, shift to self-designed learning, host sessions on re-thinking development, nature connect, team-building, cooperative games & dances, reconnecting with the ancestral roots, and decoding beliefs. He practises farming and gift culture in his efforts to live a simple and less consumption-oriented life. He has co-authored stories and plays on interconnected-ness and separation and has acted in them. He has translated and edited a book called ‘The Original Forest’ by Evelyn Sasamoto. He has also worked with Eternal Bhoomi, a quarterly magazine in Bangalore as a Sub-Editor and Layout artist. You can e-mail him at [email protected] and read his blog at http://thefreedomwalker.wordpress.com