War Against Nature
September 21 is celebrated each year as the International Day of Peace. Cara Tejpal writes poignantly of a moment in her life when she realized her life’s purpose was to be a voice for nature… to convince humanity of the futility of waging war against our planet.
Photo: Cara Tejpal.
My grandmother died this year. Ravaged by a brain cancer that stilled her butter churning hands and silenced her razor sharp tongue. In better times she would laugh at me – her curio of a granddaughter – who brought home dying civets and camped in wildernesses with unrelated men. Laughing uproariously she would comment in Punjabi – “this is your karma. You have to make up for all the snakes that my father killed while tilling the land. It is your duty to fight for the voiceless.”
She, like my other three grandparents, once knew an undivided country. They lived through the ugly turmoil of partition, migrating with their families from villages close to Lahore to the heartland of a freshly amputated India. The horrors of the divide, no doubt, shaped the primary character of that generation. A primordial struggle for survival, a need to fight that has ever since been passed down from generation to generation in this tattered subcontinent (albeit in distilled ways).
Early in life, I was told that to love the earth would mean to be at war with its dominant inhabitants – humans. Over the years the belief solidified. Tired, veteran conservationists would speak of hard won battles to secure virgin landscapes, while greedy ‘developers’ would label those of my ilk as ‘green terrorists’. It became easy then, to imagine myself as a modern day warrior, fighting for the freedom of the land. It began to seem to me that an undercurrent of violence lay at the foundation of the field of wildlife conservation. I deluded myself in to believing that the anger alone fuelled my purpose.
And then, all at once, as I lay on the banks of the Cauvery River with just a solitary snipe and a chestnut headed bee-eater for company, a switch flicked. I was suddenly overcome by a feeling of well being and gratitude, and moved to tears by the sound of the river. The turmoil within me washed away and a new force more potent than any anger overtook me. It was a peace so profound that it has taken me a year to identify it. In that one moment, my purpose, my fuel, my perspective, they all changed. I had the crashing epiphany that I no longer wanted to fight; I just wanted to work towards sustaining this elevated sense of being found in nature and gifting it to others (and that sometimes that can involve struggle).
Photo: Cara Tejpal.
Only those who have spent time in the wilds can possibly know what I experienced that sunny morning in Coorg. My colleagues in diverse countries across the world have surely felt it at different times and places, whether in the misty mountains of Bhutan, or the arid deserts of Pakistan. And they are the ones who will understand that conservation is, at the very heart of it, a floundering attempt at peace.
Author: Cara Tejpal.