I WROTE THIS YEARS AGO. THE QUESTIONS STILL REMAIN UNANSWERED.
It started out with a simple itinerary across East Africa. It ended in an exploration of the deepest recesses of the mind.
Our journey took us to various national parks and game reserves of Kenya and Tanzania. We were in close, almost intimate, touch with nature. In close touch with the wild. Flora and fauna alike. We beheld sights that took our breath away. Sights that once were common to mankind. Flamingo pink sunrises. Sunsets that set the skies on fire. A bed of white and pink spreading its all-pervasive bouquet into the atmosphere. The fragrance of flowers blossoming quickly replaced our expensive urban perfumes.
We saw birds in plumage we had never imagined before. The sweet sounds of twittering birds roused us from our sleep at dawn. The sound of the winged creatures replaced shrill alarm clocks and other strident city noises: a hornbill lustily calling to its mate. Crested cranes in regal pairs chatting amiably with each other. Glossy blue starlings that flew across our faces whistling impudently much like the city Romeos. Even guinea fowl twittering in the face of imminent danger.
We experienced the joys of living in a natural world. Joys that we have sacrificed to civilization. Going for game drives we unlatched the top of our combis – the vehicle so common to the country – little knowing we’d be unlatching emotions deeply buried within us, getting answers to questions we had never asked before.
How close we were to the wild. And how close we got to our own selves! Our own real natural “wild” selves. How similar was man’s nature in the uncivilized wilderness to that of the wild! It was all clear in that wild African light.
For instance, the two solitary lions we saw lazing in the sun – far away from their pride. Just like men who had taken off for the day from their families. In the distance lay the pride – several lionesses with two cubs – playful and irrepressible. The mothers half-dozing keeping a watchful eye on the intrepids. They say the lion family is patriarchal. He is the king of the jungle. But the only obvious function the male seemed to perform was a majestic role in expanding the pride. The female hunted and fed the pride (the male however, ate first after the kill: similar to the traditional Indian woman waiting on her husband!), she bore and looked after the cubs and even protected her entire pride from imminent danger. So much like the role of the human mother!
But the wild lived in constant danger. Of other wild animals. Of stampedes. Of floods. The list is endless. And yet when it came to maternal instinct each one reigned supreme in its own special way.
Like the mother cheetah leading her two cubs across the plains. Only to walk into a herd of elephants – some adult, some calves. There was a hush as we watched with bated breath. Huge ears flapped noiselessly. (Elephants are known to communicate at frequencies inaudible to the human ear). The herd slowly sidled in place. Each of the calves was flanked on either side by an adult for protection. And then one silent signal later, all hell broke loose. The very earth trembled as the leader of the herd trumpeted loudly and the entire herd stampeded in the direction of the mother and her two cubs. Pushing her cubs in a different direction to confuse the charging elephants, the cheetah swiftly disappeared amongst the tall dry grasses of the plains.
For us, the world had stopped turning for that moment. No longer were we ready to make any moral judgements on the wild. We had just learnt another lesson in life. It was maternal combat at its most primal. It was one mother against the other. It was the protective instinct that we all inherited and lost along the way. It was a whole family united against a common danger. It was a clear display of the survival instinct. Could we ever show such unison in the face of threat? It was a question that throbbed in our hearts long after the stampeding elephants dissolved into the sunset.
The hunters and the hunted. The herbivores and carnivores. The wild and the domesticated! Where have we gone wrong? Has civilization helped or hindered? As mothers do we even come this close to the protection offered by a savage cheetah or a defiant herd of pachyderms? Questions in the wild. Like feline claws that make deep gory lacerations on its kill, our minds were notched with predatory scars – indelible, irreconcilable.
Maybe we were all wrong to evolve. Maybe civilization was a big mistake. Maybe we need to be in the wild and come back to civilization for a break. Our African safari lasted for two weeks. The safari that we took across the realms of the mind was unending. This time we were seeking not glimpses of wild animals but just a fleeting flash of the truth.
But like the stealthy cheetah, who with amazing quickness disappears into the tall grasses of the savanna, the answers are still elusive.