Sometimes when you are trying too hard to fix the world, you lose sight of all that is right in it. When that happens, poets become drug addicts, parents prefer pets, lovers become cynics, teachers prefer research and conservationists become alcoholics.
When I came to Scripps I saw the ocean as a large glittery turquoise gem, fringed with sparkling gold sands kissed with big green trees. Then I learnt about garbage patches drifting like continents in the gyres, and oil spills oozing out thick black slime in the deep sea. I came from dives full of colourful fish and sleek predators to seeing fish by the tons being scooped out of the ocean and then hundreds heartlessly being thrown back overboard. I came from a country of a billion people to seeing how the infinitely growing demands of an fast growing population is going to leave no space for birds and whales and bears and coral and fish.
Now I’m no poet, nor a true-blue conservationist, or I am sure I would be on a high, deep in a bottle. It isn’t always easy though to find a balance, to see the beautiful and to remember it even while being confronted with the ugly. The worst part is sometimes you forget to even try.
This winter break I was lucky enough to see beautiful sights in the most unexpected places. I thought I would share them with you, these triumphs of purity amid the plastic.
The first was when I was jolted out of my contorted bodied sleep towards the end of too long a journey on too small a seat. The early afternoon smog of a wintery Bombay was not being kind to the shuddering aircraft, and I was peering out of the window to gauge Earth-ward distance, calculating my odds. Thankfully it didn’t come to that. We broke through the layer of smog. In the distance there was the edge of the madness that is Bombay – a million slums peppered with protrusions of high rise apartments. When you are inside the city, on ground level, the crowd is so thick, the noise is so loud, the smoke is so dark that it is difficult to imagine that there might be green or quiet anywhere in the world. When you see it from higher up though, you see the much vaster range of hills, that make the city look tiny, and you see the beautiful wetlands that fringe the grey with their magnificent shades of dark green. Beautiful brown streams snake through them and they look like they’ve been there for millions of years. Suddenly the tables are turned, and the right perspective returns. Hold on to that moment, when you despair in a city and its problems.
The second moment. What do Wimbledon hand towels, paintball gun bullets, Vaseline body lotion and Vanilla scented candles have in common?
Answer: They are all manufactured in an obscure little industrial town called Khandla, close to saltpans and shipping ports off the West coast of India.
I spent a small part of my winter vacation here too, and once again was amazed at the coexistence of elegance with the clunkering heap of industrial steel. At 6:30 in the morning, my cousins and I drove through dusty lanes, littered with colourful plastic bags and bottles, kicking up a dust storm so big that we almost crashed into an enormous camel lumbering through his morning business.
Only 2 nights ago I was in the modern orderliness of San Diego – I cannot even put words to the absurdity of being in an accident with a camel. Luckily it was a narrow escape and I have escaped the task. We drove to a lake. The village women were already there, in their halter tops and flowing skirts and colourful bejeweled scarfs as big as bed sheets. I think they had used the lake as the village washing machine for years and years, for there were soap suds floating everywhere, and the water had a sinister, dead, chemical viscosity to it. In the background there were factory towers, oblivious of the young morning sunshine and still bellowing its thunderous smoke into the sky. But amazingly, incredibly, magically, the most striking thing from that entire picture were the hundreds of slender, soft-pink flamingos stepping like delicate ballerinas.
And the majestic pelicans with their pot-bellied beaks, bizarrely succeeding in lifting their chunky bodies out of the water and into the sky with surprising grace. And the cormorants perched on little rocks, with arms wide open and necks arched up to greet the morning. When you see the absolute splendor of a flamingo, stepping gingerly on the ground, rustling it up with her fragile long legs and leisurely picking out her crabby breakfast in a pond that reminds you of Pi’s acidic water island, you know right then, for a fact, that all of life is more resilient and strong and able to resist the shit that’s thrown at it. The pressing issue for the conservationist, and indeed all the world, is not “Will the birds and fish and animals survive us?” but rather, will we survive us? This realization, to me, is quite beautiful.
My third moment was in the third and most awaited little journey of my winter break. To the little hut by the sea, where every morning I am greeted by the soulful eyes of clever cows and every sunset is a work of art .
As I flew down into the islands, I looked out of the windows as I always do, for a view of the most beautiful blue in the world. Tiny islands of dense trees dot a canvas of light blue and emerald green, each with its own fringing reef that you can see even from the sky. Civilization looks like it ought to be, a part of but not dominating the natural landscape. Houses dwarfed by the trees, instead of vice versa, and small boats looking vulnerable in the large ocean, grateful for its bounty and filled with grace. Now I am no idealist, I know that when I go for a dive tomorrow I will pass a beach littered with plastic and picnic plates. I know that there will be times when the sound of the waves will be drowned by the sound of honking cars. I know that thousands of tourists will bring their city habits here, instead of letting the clutter fall away. But I also know, that I took a flight out of a messy cosmopolitan only hours ago, and here I am, descending into paradise.
I wrote this piece because I think that it is an important thing to remember, as we are all in our cold winters, in the middle of work and school and daily life, that paradise is never far away. It is everywhere we look, if we look right. A short journey with open eyes shows us plenty of beauty, but equally, so does watchful and open mind. I don’t need to fly. When I walk to school without thinking about school work, I see hummingbirds in the trees and cormorants on the rock. I hope that this year opens our eyes and minds to the exquisite in the ordinary.