February 2005: To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the Palm of your Hand,
And Eternity in an Hour.
When William Blake penned those incredible words around 200 years ago, he was an impoverished, but well-established radical. Were he born today he would still be labelled a radical. His ‘Auguries of Innocence’ would still threaten the owners of sceptres and crowns who believe their writ must run over every last wild flower, every last grain of sand.
Perhaps the closest we can come to holding infinity in the palm of our hands is to step into ethereal habitats like Kaziranga, where time hangs still. Shut your eyes here; take a deep breath; and savour the gift of life. That tiny slice of tranquility you feel? That is eternity.
It is also the music of the universe to which the rhino steps. The rhino seeks no excitement. No distractions from boredom. Its game plan for survival is stasis.
Just consider the animal. Massive. Powerful. Placid. Day-after-day it visits the same wallows, the same middens and eats the same foods. Should such life choices not be its right after we are gone?
As we celebrate Kaziranga’s Centenary, the thought of the devastation wreaked by the earthquake-triggered tsunami on December 26, refuses to go away. The wave was unavoidable. But much fewer people would have died had our natural defences – sandbars, corals, mangroves and sand dunes – not been turned to cash.
Which brings us back to the rhino. A series of large storages including the Lower Subansiri dam are being built in the northeast, one of the world’s most earthquake-prone zones. On June 12, 1897 an Mw 8 quake struck along Assam’s Oldham fault. A three-metre earthquake-triggered wave from the Brahmaputra river then killed 1,500 people. With high dams in place, the death rate could conceivably be greater than that of the tsunami. And Rhinoceros unicornis, could well vanish. That would shatter Blake’s world. And leave very little for anyone to celebrate 100 years hence.
Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXV No. 1, February 2005