Saturday, March 30, 2013

Forces of Nature

I have my dreams, I have my fears, I have my hopes, I have my plans, yet all of it was rendered inconsequential when I stared at Nature’s creation right in the eye. It is strange how meaningless life is reduced to when it faces a greater power, a force that cannot be contained within boundaries. Your plans of getting that job with a higher salary, that dream of getting a room with a view, your fear of failure, is all rolled into a ball like it were some old torn newspaper and thrown into the garbage can. Such is the aura of Nature that it can make your life seem nothing.

I had two such moments of epiphany, once when I was hanging on to dear life on a boat that was in the middle of a raging sea, and the other when I saw a lion at its pomp. The sea looks calm and serene from the shores, the more you venture into it the more you get acquainted to its fury. In Chennai, we do have the Marina Beach–the second largest beach in the world, but yet every time a friend suggests a get together at the beach, I exude the same enthusiasm that Indian batsmen have for green tracks in Australia. 

What could it be that makes me react the way I do? The jam packed crowd that reduces a serene and sublime view to that of unruly, ear piercing cacophony with images of mothers running after pesky kids? That someone from the crowd might flick my footwear while I sink my feet under the wet sand, as the tides wash through my feet? That I might be solicited by some shady characters (mostly men) who upon politely turning them down resort to abusing and name-calling? That behind every upturned boat you might bump into a couple (sometimes of the same sex)furiously making out? 

It is my lowly opinion of the Chennai shores that had programmed in me preconceived notions about beaches all over the world. 

Maybe they steal footwear in Bondi too.

I am sure Miami Beach has evil lurkers, and molesters roaming about.

I bet that in the beaches of Spain arguing with peanut sellers over the price of a pack of peanuts results in him spitting at you.

And then, I visited the coastal town of Umkomaas in South Africa. 

The shores of Umkomaas are the kind you would like to be ship-wrecked on, a splendid view of the sea that stretches miles ahead, cloudy and overcast conditions, with reports of a storm brewing on the horizon. Of the fifty five odd people that were there, forty five of them belonged to the touring party, the rest were the skippers and tour guides who took you on the boat ride. The group was split into different batches which were handled by separate skippers. Not until had we ventured into the middle of the sea, did the waves that wet-slapped me across my face made me feel exhilarated, a thrill that you won’t feel by meeting your deadlines, or winning the employee of the month award, or topping the class. This was about getting high purely on nature, to be embraced by it, to wet ourselves by its fury, to be taught a lesson by Mother Nature that in front of her splendor nothing else matters. 

We were advised in case of nausea or sea sickness to look at the land, which in turn gave us a hope that the shores were not that far. But the farther we went into the sea, the more the shores started to seem like a speck, and as for the sea we had gotten so familiarized with her mood swings from frenzy to moments of calm like she were an old friend. I tried to break into a rendition of "Elay Keechan", but I was advised to stop being cocky by the fellow members of the boat since were were not out of rough seas yet.  

Nothing makes you appreciate the value of life than the possibility of staring at the face of death. While holding on to the railings of the rocking speed boat, where even a slip could mean being thrown into the shark infested sea, I realized of all that I had and yet how incessantly I had been grumbling for so little. I was not worried that I wouldn’t get to win the employee of the month award, or get to see my career graph progress, or have my own cabin that would have the view of the city’s skyline.

All I wanted to do once I reached safe shores was to call my support system–my friends, my family, and the people I care for and thank them for all the unconditional love, care and support they had showered on me over the years. And if I had my way, to probably tell that girl about how she took my breath away every time I saw her.

Maybe that is all there is to life, not your money in the bank, not the things you own, not where you hang out in the weekends, not how much you can afford to spend over a bowl of soup. It’s all about having someone to hold on to when your boat is being rocked, someone with whom you can share that bowl of soup. And I wouldn’t have realized any of this……

Had I not been thrown in the middle of the sea. 

* * * * * * *
I had been to South Africa on a vacation, and apart from AIDS the other thing that you associate with South Africa is a Safari, since exploring the former would be more risky and requires two to tango, I went for the latter. I had been to the Lions Park in Johannesburg. I have never seen a Lion in real life, I have been to zoos and parks in India at a much younger age, at an age where I was too immature to acknowledge the beasts of the wild. For me back then, the animals were just a source of inspiration for Disney’s cartoon characters, the image of having seen a lion at an early age has never stuck with me. 

Maybe it was the thrill of watching a ferocious creature, a change from the two legged beasts that I encounter every day in my social life that had the hairs on the back of my neck stand upright. Maybe it was the nature of the beast, the Lion, the majestic King of the Jungle that has inspired stories, movies, poetry that had my jaw dropped and had me all starry-eyed like I were watching a Rockstar in action. 

But then a Rockstar he was, it was the way he moved, the way he growled, the way he prowled. And much like a Rockstar, the White Lion posed for the cameras gazing into it with an intense and fierce look, we were told he had even starred in a movie named “White Lion”, and as my eyes met his I could feel my soul dissipating away.  How can you not be overawed by looking at a mammoth creature as white as snow, that weighs close to four hundred pounds and looks at you with eyes that could cut through steel? The natives consider the white lion as a messenger of gods, a statement you wouldn’t deny. Looking at him made me feel that I was in the lowest rungs of all creatures that walked the earth. 

Take one man from our race, the super-achiever, the Alpha Male, a Greek god type who looks like Adonis, someone who has achieved it all, someone who has done Engineering from an IIT, then went on to do an MBA from an IIM, and then a doctorate from Wharton, and now has a thousand people working under him, screws movie stars, earns so much money that he can afford to wipe his ass with it and flush it down the drain. Then, put him in a room next to a Lion. 

Chances are that even an all-conquering, globe-trotter who reaches for the stars and pins them on his shoulders would feel insignificant when standing next to a Lion so sublime. Nothing shatters your self-esteem as looking at a lion can, with him walking around the open field like he were ruling the world, his long mane blowing in the wind, the path he walks clears all by itself, he doesn’t have to say a word to show you that he’s in command, but when he roars even the mountains shudder upon hearing his voice.

Although he was in a contained environment, where he was monitored and surveyed he never gave a feeling that he was imprisoned. Sure, he was in an open field with his own Pride of lions, he never had to use his hunting skills to put the food on the table for his family, infact, he was reduced to a prisoner standing in line during chow time. He knew this was not his natural habitat, but was his prison without a cage. Yet he never let that crown topple of his head, he may be amidst humans, but he sure as hell was not letting them know that he was a beast conquered. His handlers still feared him, our guide was wary of what he could do, she also warned us that our chances of surviving against a behemoth that covers four hundred meters in six seconds were next to none. So, even if we dropped our cameras out of the moving bus, we might as well consider it as good as gone, for there was no way would we have the luxury of getting out of our vehicle and getting it back.

We are so busy building technologies, and conquering new worlds that we seldom acknowledge forces that are greater than us. We are caught up in our own stories of how smart we are, and how the whole of mankind is making progress, that we may even colonize Mars one day. So deluded we are in predictions of our own glory that we fail to realize that there lies a world outside our rooms that is bigger than all of humanity put together. My one week surrounded by nature made me appreciate the fact that as humans no matter what we create, and build, and no matter how many moons we conquer, or galaxies we explore, none of what we have done or what we have seen could match the breathtaking grandeur of being on a rocking boat in the middle of a tumultuous ocean, or watching a magnificent Lion roam the earth like he owns it.

He who has said it, said it right “Until lions have their own storytellers, tales of the hunt will always favor the hunter.”

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