February 2009: There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. – Charles Darwin
I have explored nature’s wonderlands virtually all my life. Each time I enter a bat cave, watch pure water hurtling down a waterfall, follow fresh tracks of predators across fallen snow, or observe bees head unerringly to nectar-filled flowers in crowded Mumbai, I am stunned by the complexity and efficiency of the system that created this meshed beauty.
There is, of course, nothing unique about the way I feel. Sunrises, sunsets and the drama that transpires in between, has always moved humans to tears and poetry, or, in the case of a man born 200 years ago, on February 12, 1809, to a lifelong quest for answers.
Charles Darwin was just a young beetle collector in his family’s view, yet, so singularly fascinated was he by nature’s rhythms that, after his famous ‘Voyage of the Beagle’, he devoted the rest of his life to the study and interpretation of natural phenomena. His subsequent ‘theory of evolution’ does not merely explain species transmutation, but also how we came to be here and why we will undoubtedly perish if the complicated web that supports us all – humans, hamadryads and horse flies – tatters.
Hungry to experience the world Darwin had opened for me when I was barely 14, I continue to be drawn to paradise after earthly paradise, wondering at the good fortune of being alive while there is still so much left to enjoy. I have swum amidst fan corals and ogled at spinner dolphins deep beneath the Great Nicobar Sea, heard the tummy rumbles of elephants in South Africa’s Kruger, watched black bear mothers feed their cubs in Alaska and marvelled at the acrobatics of giant squirrels in the canopy of the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Each wild adventure teaches me something new.
The joys of discovery were integral to Darwin’s science (see page 74 – A tribute to Darwin) as revealed in his correspondence with the naturalist-clergyman Leonard Jenyns: “I once saw some squirrels eagerly splitting those little semi-transparent spherical galls on the back of oak-leaves, for the maggot within; so that they are insectivorous.”
To the day I die, curiosity will drive me to explore Darwin’s world, and to protect our miraculous planet from those tragic people who seem immune to the joys of things natural.
Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXIX No. 1, February 2009