Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Dear Homo Sapiens of Earth - Part 3A - The Child
* * * * *
Dear Homo Sapiens of Earth:
Your legend has it that in the snows of Kilimanjaro, the carcass of a plains leopard was found. No one knew what it had gone up there to seek. But when this human climbed the mountain, he knew, for he was there to seek the very same thing, which the leopard evidently succeeded in finding.
Days before he boarded his one-way flight two weeks ago from Vancouver to Dar Es Salaam, he had gracelessly quit his job, and ruthlessly gave away the physical remnants of his life – his real estate holdings, his car, his money, his credit, even his beloved horse. He had not bid farewell to a single soul, nor had he once looked back.
At pain of extra weight, he carried a gun, not that there was much to hunt up on the altitudes, nor to fear, but the gun itself. In five daily segments, he had made the snow line, where he dismissed his porter without explanation. Another half-day’s solitary ascent brought him further up to this ice-cave into the depths of which he had withdrawn, from the world and from himself.
Not an hour ago, as the sun was declining in the western sky, transforming the cave into a glowing, rosy tomb, he was sitting exactly here, with the gun aimed at the temple of the temple of his soul.
Some say that when one is about to die, ones past life would flash before ones eyes. While he was sitting there, shivering in the descending cold, in the meditative position that seemed fitting for his final contemplation, his past life did not exactly flash by, but was instead painstakingly replayed, episode by episode, scene by scene, which were then drained into the sump in the dungeon of his mind already brimming with pain, anger, guilt, disenchantment, purposelessness and despair.
Failing to pull the trigger after some eons-long minutes, he had set the deadline for the fatal moment, that by the time the last glow of day had faded, either his head would have been blown apart, or he would deem himself a terminal coward. He would slink back to the meaningless existence he had climbed up here to escape, but thereafter it would be just his body undergoing the physical processes of survival, for his soul would have since irretrievably departed.
It was when he could no longer discern the fingers of his free hand held out before his eyes, and his gun hand had started trembling from the cold and his trigger finger had become numb from the strain, that I finally addressed him for the first time.
“Forgive me for intruding at this final moment of your privacy. So I will be brief, if you will allow me.”
It was to him not exactly a voice that he had heard, for all his ears could discern was the whistling of the wind at the mouth of the cave, but rather, a clear and unmistakable thought that seemed to have come from far beyond. Or was it from deep within?
For at least a hundred of his remaining heartbeats he did not respond, and I spoke again, “I’m seeking a miracle worker, to work a miracle upon this Earth, for her sake and on my behalf. Since you appear to have no further use for this amazing instrument of yours which you call your body, and which obviously is in excellent working condition, will you donate it to me such that the purpose of this my sojourn on Earth be fulfilled?”
This notion was clearly so alien to him that he could hardly claim it as his own. So the first question that leapt to his mind was, “Who are you?”
So I told him truthfully, “I am Raminothna, the Fortunate and Called Upon, at your service.” Again, of course, no sound was involved.
“Say again?” He just wanted to “hear” my “voice” again.
“I am Raminothna, the Fortunate and Called Upon, at your service.”
“Ra-mi-noth-na? Be it as it may, that’s just a name. What are you, then?”
“What am I? Yes, one of the deepest of all universal philosophical questions. I can only say this: Once you have come to know what you are, you will know what I am.”
“Look, I have no inclination, nor the time, for a philosophical discussion right now.”
“If not now, when?”
“Maybe never. Who cares?”
“Alright, fine. Let’s get this over and done with. What do you want?”
“As I said, I’m seeking a miracle worker, to work a miracle upon this Earth, for her sake and on my behalf.”
“So, we’re back from the universal philosophical question to the big fat joke, are we?”
“For me to perform a miracle? I can’t even if I wanted to.”
“Is this a yes?”
“Is it a no then?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.”
“What exactly is it?”
“I mean, look at me. Do I look like a miracle worker to you? I can’t even exert five ounces on the trigger, let alone perform a miracle.”
“What does a miracle worker look like?”
“The last one I know looked like Jesus Christ.”
“And what does Jesus Christ look like?”
Da Vinci’s Last Supper materialized in his mind.
“What are these creatures?”
“The thirteen creatures depicted in this painting.”
“They are human beings, for Christ’s sake!”
“Which among these human beings is Jesus Christ?”
“The one in the middle.”
“What makes him different from the rest? They all look essentially the same to me - all human, that is, as human as you.”
“He had God in him.”
“Where is God?”
“God is omni-present – anywhere and everywhere.”
“Including the space currently occupied by your body?”
“Then you have God in you as well.”
“Look. Just like the other twelve in the painting, in fact, like the other five billion, nine hundred and ninety nine million, nine hundred and ninety nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine human beings on Earth today, I’m no miracle worker. Can’t you just accept that? Let me give you a piece of advice. You are wasting your time to seek a miracle worker amongst us human beings, whatever you are.”
“No! You are the one who want to talk about miracles. You define it!”
“Very well. Let’s say: A miracle is an impossible physical feat with a profound spiritual significance.”
“So you’re saying I can perform not only an impossible physical feat, but one with a profound spiritual significance?”
“I’m glad we finally got this point straight. So now I can say, definitively, no ifs and buts, and for the last time, I cannot do the impossible, and for those possible things that I’ve done, none was of any significance whatsoever, which means, therefore, that I am not a miracle worker, at all, period…”
“If I prove to you that you can, will you?”
“… And even if I were, I would not lift one finger to glorify this selfish, heartless, cruel and destructive species which I am ashamed to admit to be my own...”
“If I prove to you that you can, will you?”
“… In fact, the more power we have, the worse we get… Pardon. What did you say?”
“If I prove to you that you can, will you?”
“What kind of proof?”
“Let me give you a basic one. I tell you that you can raise ten gallons of water from the plain 18,000 feet below up to here, in liquid form from beginning to end, all in the matter of five days, without artificial aid of any kind.”
“Ten gallons of water? Without artificial aid of any kind? No buckets, no hoses, no boilers, no condensers . . .?”
“None, except the clothes you are now wearing, and the boots on your feet.”
“Impossible, even with buckets.”
“Thus, according to our definition, miraculous, considering its profound spiritual significance.”
“What spiritual significance?”
“First and foremost, that you are a miracle worker.”
“Indeed. With no beginning and no end.”
“I can’t produce this proof for you, I’m sorry.”
“You already have.”
“You have already raised the water.”
“The water you’ve already raised up, of course.”
“All ten gallons of it, I suppose.”
“And all in liquid form, as stipulated, minus your sweat, to be exact.”
“And where is this water I have raised up without artificial aid of any kind?”
“Right where you are.”
He cast a glance around. “I see lots of ice, but it’s been here for eons, and certainly not due to me. Besides, it is in solid form. Liquid water? There is not a drop in sight, except the couple of pints still in my flask, and the flask is an artificial aid.”
“Well then, you’ll just have to show it to me.”
“Before I do, you must promise me one thing.”
“O Lord! What now?”
“The power of miracle is never to be abused.”
“Sure, no problem. If I do have this power, I will never abuse it. Alright?”
“Nor to be neglected.”
“Nor will I neglect it.”
“Then, look inward, inside your skin, where you will find, flowing through your arteries and veins, and tissues and organs including your heart and your brain, ten gallons of warm, living water. You can baptize the world’s lost souls with it, and quench the world’s thirst for understanding with it. Even, you can fertilize the deserts of humanity with it, extinguish the fires in your nuclear weapons with it, and dissolve in it the despair of humankind. With this sacred water, you can change your world, even save your Earth.”
Without his knowing, as the moonlight filtered through the ice onto his gun, it had settled itself into his lap, on which glistened a drop of his liquid tears.
So, softly I said unto him, “Henceforth, I shall see through your eyes, hear through your ears, feel through your heart, think through your brain, and work through your hands, until your greater miracle is accomplished. May the Tao be with you, Homo Sapiens of Earth.”
I am Raminothna
the Fortunate and the Called Upon
at your service
* * * * *
I returned to the jeep and Ram was waiting.
“Sorry to be late,” I said. “I fell asleep under the tree next to the shrine.”
“The shrine? What shrine?”
“The stone tablet.”
“Oh. That’s not the shrine. That is just a label.”
“Oh? Really? Then I didn’t see any shrine.”
“Oh yes, you did.”
“The Raminothna Tree.”
“You mean, the tree is the shrine?”
“That is correct.”
“So what does the plaque say?”
“Oh. Something like, ‘Eat one berry and I will stay with you a year. Eat two, a decade. Eat three, a lifetime. Eat four, and you may never be able to get rid of me at all. Yours Divinely, Raminothna.’ Something like that.”
“How old is that tablet?”
“No one knows.”
“Who Who carved it?”
“No one knows.”
“What is the name of that tree species?”
Oh, something something Raminothnansis. It is supposed to be slightly toxic, highly psychedelic, and has long lasting effects – in terms of months or years. You didn’t eat the berries, did you?”
“Uh, yes, I did.”
“About a dozen.”
“Oh my God! I forgot that you couldn’t read Hindi. You’re probably the first non-Hindu who has ever gone up that hill. I’m very sorry. Are you alright?”
Yes and no.
Good night, Christopher.
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
February 9, 1999, Mon, sunny, 7-21C
[07:11 @ Ranthambhore Bagh lodge, Ranthambhore tiger reserve, Rajasthan, India]
Another day is opening for me and closing on you. How did it go? What did you do? How did you feel? Do you know that every moment of every day and night, whether or not I happen to be thinking of you or dreaming about you, you are always on my mind? You are on my mind now.
[10:17, @ Ranthambhore Bagh lodge, Ranthambhore tiger reserve, Rajasthan, India]
Like a drowning man grasping for a lifeline, or a man suddenly in love, I hired a cab right after breakfast to drive me back to the dam. I paid him to wait there for me. He grinned broadly. “No trouble, sir. I’ll sleep till you come back. I need it.” He drives 16 hours a day, seven days a week. His kind of day.
“Welcome back,” she smiled at me as soon as I entered the crater. “Though you need not have come back at all, since you have taken me deep inside of you and I’ll be with you for many lifetimes.”
The “smile” was metaphorical, as are her words, as is Raminothna herself, of course, I think. But I’m back here, am I not? In this a refuge for the desperate? I looked at the berries. I reached for a purple one, hesitantly.
“Have more of me if you must, but you already have all of me.”
I withdrew my hand.
“Rest under my shelter.”
I settled into a meditative position in the shade of the tree. The silence is golden, except for the call of a solitary cicada, which makes it platinum. I am alone, but am not lonely. I have company, but have regained my solitude. Pain would have again filled earth and sky, hatred would have again taken hold like a strangling fig, outrage would have again risen like magma..., but they did not. I don’t exactly feel optimistic, confident or at peace, let alone happy, but I feel in control and reasonably calm.
“You may ask your question.”
”The same old one throughout human history: What then must I do?”
“Depends on what you want to achieve.”
“What are you prepared to pay?”
“Anything I can, up to and including my life.”
“It should include yours then?”
“I’m unhappy now. So, what the hell. Though I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“Suppose the only way Christopher can be happy is to feel bad about you.”
“What are you talking about?!”
“He already calls you ‘a very bad man’, doesn’t he?”
“He recited that! He was made to say it!! He didn’t know what he was saying!!!”
“One day he might, knowingly.”
“That’s an insufferable thought.”
“He might have to hate you for his psychological survival, and despise you for his sanity.”
“Oh, stop. I can’t stand it. I dread to think what would have to happen to him to make him feel that way about me.”
“Would you still love him?”
“Yes, I will.”
“No matter what he may become?”
“No matter what he may become.”
“Easier said than done.”
“Count on it.”
“But still, what are you talking about?”
“Just be forewarned.”
“Do you know something I don’t?”
“Everybody knows something everybody else doesn’t.”
“So tell me.”
“Certain things are best left unsaid and unknown, at least for the time being, or until it happens.”
“I already know that I will die some day. Although indeed I would not want to know when, or how for that matter. I’m a bit if a coward, aren’t I?”
“At least you’re one step ahead of the cicada, who has no idea that it’s remaining time span is only thirteen days. Suppose I tell you that your remaining time span is…”
”DON’T!!! I don’t want to know!”
“I said ‘suppose’.”
“Fine. I won’t tell. And I wouldn’t fault you for lacking in courage either.”
“Why not? I am scared to know.”
“You do know that one day you will die. Somehow. Somewhere. Somewhen. Aren’t you scared of that?”
“See what I mean?”
“That in spite of your fear, you still have not lost your sense of humor. That’s a sign of courage.
“So, what does this leave me? Back to my original question. What do I do now?”
“What can you do?”
“Nothing. Nothing I can do can do Christopher a smidgeon of good, that I can think of.”
“Is doing nothing is an option?”
“No, because every passing day I do not contact Christopher, will be one day closer to his total despair.”
“It is not a viable option, I tend to agree.”
“So, again, what then must I do?”
“Your options do all seem to be indirect at best, at least for now.”
“You mean working for the greater good so that he, too, will benefit?”
“I mean working for the greatest good.”
“What is the greatest good?”
“Tell me. What is the heaviest precious object in your world whose full weight you can take on the palm of your hands?”
“Precious object? Heaviest? How about a hundred-pound diamond?”
“Not precious enough.”
“A hundred and fifty pound diamond then. That’s stretching it.”
“Still not precious enough.”
“Oh! How right you are! How could I be so bloody materialistic?! It is Christopher. He is what you mean, isn’t he?”
“Indeed he is, unless, as soon as you have his full weight on the palm of your hands, your feet would rise six feet off the ground, bearing no weight at all.”
“You’ve lost me.”
“You heard me.”
“Are you saying that this ‘heaviest precious object’ is such that once I’ve taken its full weight on the palms of my hands, my feet would simultaneously rise six feet off the ground, bearing no weight at all?”
“Word for word.”
“The ‘I’ word again?”
“Even if that is possible, what am I supposed to do with it?”
“Take care of it, for the sake of Christopher.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“You will, before you leave.”
“Ask me another question.”
“Okay. Raminothna, What exactly are you? Are you really a Hindu goddess? Or are you a Christian angel? Or are you a fallen angel in disguise? Or are you in fact an alien? And if you were, are you benevolent or malevolent? Or are you more like E.T. the extraterrestrial? Or could you even be God? Or could you be nothing more than a figment of my imagination?”
“Which would you prefer?”
“It is not I prefer. It is what you are.”
“I am what you imagine me to be, beginning with this tree.”
“So you’re saying you’re nothing but a figment of my imagination?”
“You are at liberty to imagine that I am real.”
“As I said, I am what you imagine me to be.”
“If I imagine you to be the Devil in disguise?”
“Do you? Really?”
“Thank you. Alright, very well, let me give you a hint. Let me say this: ‘Dear Homo Sapiens of Earth, whose foot prints now roam the crater of the Moon, heed the Seven Cosmic Signs…***… I am Raminothna, the Fortunate and Called Upon, at your service.” (*** See the Prologue – “The Seven Cosmic Signs”.)
“This is nice, but it still doesn’t tell me what you are. You could still be a goddess, or an angel, or the Devil in disguise, or an alien, or God.”
“Yes, I could be.”
“Well maybe you should change your line of questioning.”
“I see. Alright, I’ll let you off the hook for now.”
“Was I on the hook?”
“Okay, I do have a question.”
“These Seven Cosmic Signs. What do they signify?”
“Good question. I’m glad you ask. Let me start to answer by telling you this: These Seven Cosmic Signs have another name.”
“The Seven Critical Symptoms.”
“Sound more ominous by the hour. So what are these ‘critical symptoms’ symptomatic of?”
“The Six Planetary Diseases.”
“Sounds even more ominous still.”
“Some prefer to use the word ‘ailments’ rather than ‘diseases’. It is up to you.”
“Tell me what they are first.”
“Are you sure you really want to know?”
“I don’t want to, but I think I should.”
“Alright. Here they are then: The First Planetary Disease - Planetary Fever.”
I thought for a moment. “Are you talking about global warming?”
“Which could become global roasting if you’re not careful.”
“The ‘runaway greenhouse effect’. Sure. If we are that stupid, we should roast in Hell. Next.” “The Second Planetary Disease - Planetary Auto-Immune Deficiency Syndrome – PAIDS for short.”
“What is the planetary auto-immune system?”
“What is Earth’s natural defense system that protects life on Earth from a certain natural external threat?”
“What is this threat? Asteroids?”
“Solar UV radiation?”
“So, this planetary auto immune system is the ozone shield?”
“The very same.”
“And this PAIDS - it is the totality of all the damage done to the biosphere by solar UV radiation due to the damage done to the ozone shield?”
“And the Third Planetary Disease?”
“What is this cancer?”
“Cancer is ones own body cells multiplying unchecked.”
“Right. So what are the ‘body cells’ of Earth’s biosphere multiplying unchecked?”
“Dare I add – our cattle? I don’t mean to offend you, you being a Hindu goddess and cows being sacred in your religion. But both humans and cattle do multiplying unchecked, uncontrolled, and even out of control. And they are born of the biosphere, which now they are feeding upon unsustainably. So, indeed, we are the scum of the Earth.”
“Except for one thing.”
“Cancers cells don’t have a choice. You do.”
“True. But then, it could be even worse. At least, cancer cells do not intentionally become cancer cells. We human beings, at least for now, are cancer of the Earth by choice.”
“You could also deliberately stop doing what is harmful that you used to do, and begin deliberately to live a non-cancerous way of life.”
“Could you give me an example of a non-cancerous way of life?”
“The key word is ‘sustainable’. You yourself used it just now. A sustainable way of life is not cancerous.”
“Such as a vegetarian diet? It is said that if everybody on Earth eat like the average American or Canadian, we would need three planet Earths to feed us all.”
“Global dietary change is undoubtedly a central factor of planetary evolution.”
“And the Fourth Planetary Disease?”
“Planetary Wasting Disease.”
“Involving weight loss?”
“Involving a global biomass loss.”
“For one thing.”
“For another. And let’s not forget another major bio-loss.”
“Loss of bio – diversity? Biodiversity?”
“Via over-hunting and habitat destruction, as usual.”
“This valley being a prime example.”
“Must be painful for you.”
“The devastation to this whole planet, to me, is about as hurtful as the devastation of Christopher is to you.”
“Oh, Raminothna. I’m so sorry to hear this. Must be unbearable for you.”
“Was being nailed to the cross bearable? Yet he bore it.”
“He died from it. And why, as a Hindu goddess, do you speak in Christian terms.”
“If you, a mortal, can do it, why can’t I?”
“You have a point. More on the loss of biodiversity. I hear that we are losing about one known species an hour, and an unknown number of unknown species per minute. Our quest for efficiency has resulted in monoculture of crops and unification of strains within species. Furthermore, there is a push to eliminate predators of species we want to consume, and even eliminate those who compete for the food that our “preferred” species consume. Diversity of species and variation within species reduces short-term efficiency, but remains a natural hedge against long-term ecological change. Yet, ecological change is happening incredibly fast, increasing greatly the need for diversity to avert ecological crisis.”
“The first order of business in terms of preservation of biodiversity is to safeguard the integrity of the natural ecosystems that still remain on your Earth.”
“Yes. I’ll vouch for that. Okay, what is the Fifth Planetary Disease?”
“Pollution, acid rain, toxic waste…”
“And the Sixth Planetary Disease – Planetary Suicidal Tendency.”
“How does a planet commit suicide?”
“A global nuclear holocaust would be the fast way.”
“A global nuclear holocaust is what our species could do to the Earth, not what the Earth would do to itself.”
“Is your species an integral part of the biosphere, or apart from it?”
“An integral part of it.”
“Is the biosphere an integral part of the planet, or apart from it?”
“An integral part of it. Yes, I see what you mean. And, no, I don’t want Earth to commit suicide, or die of any of the planetary diseases. And, yes, I will do my best to make sure that she does not, for the sake of all creatures, and all children, especially Christopher. I will do what I can to help cure these planetary diseases. I will help heal our planet Earth.”
“Heal Our Planet Earth – H.O.P.E. May you be realized.”
“Even if I succeed in healing the world, in terms of my indirect way of benefiting Christopher, I know it would still be a poor substitute for directly providing for Christopher’s personal needs as a father figure and a male role model.”
“Yes, but it sure beats passing down a sicker and sicker planet to Christopher and his generation, even if you could continue being his father figure and male role model. And it is your best option given the circumstances.”
“Easier said than done. To heal just one person of only one disease would cost thousands. How much would the medical bill for healing a whole planet of all six planetary diseases be?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“How about $1 trillion over the first ten years?”
“Or $100 billion per year. Sounds reasonable, for starters.”
“And pray tell, where do we get $100 billion a year?”
“You noted that India is spending $1.8 billion on a star wars system against Pakistan. So there is $1.8 billion right there.”
“What is your global arms expenditure?”
“About $1 trillion a year, I hear.”
“$100 billion is a tenth of that.”
“Yes. So it is. But how do you get the whole world to cut the global military spending by ten percent?”
“By each nation cutting its own military budget by ten percent.”
“And what do you do with the funds thus released?”
“Put them into a H.O.P.E. fund, to be administered by the U.N..”
“A truly magnificent vision, Raminothna, if only, somehow, this could be implemented.”
“Do you have a will?”
“Yes, I do. So, there is a way.”
“If somehow I could get this happening, it would indeed be a miracle.”
“It would be a part of a greater miracle.”
“Let me think about this, Raminothna. Now, it’s getting late. I’d better go.”
“Before you leave, would you honor me with a yoga suite?”
“Yes, I would, with all my being.”
It was during the 13th stance when Raminothna said, “Behold, you now have your world’s heaviest precious object in the palms of your hands, and your feet have indeed simultaneously risen six feet off the ground, bearing no weight at all.”
The 13th stance is the handstand.
“The planet Earth,” I grunted in awe.
So, Christopher, here is my solemn promise to you. I will devote my life towards healing our planet Earth, for your sake. Raminothna be my witness.
“I am,” said Raminothna.
“It sure was a long communion you had with Raminothna. She must like you a lot,” said the taxi driver, while rubbing sleep from his eyes and glancing at the fare-meter. “What do you think of her?”
“My kind of goddess,” I said.
[23:46 @ Ranthambhore Bagh lodge, Ranthambhore tiger reserve, Rajasthan, India]
A three-day international environmental conference involving some 140 countries is happening right now at the “Bare Foot College” in nearby Tilonia. My plenary lecture, on Bengal tiger conservation naturally, was well attended and received. I then led a workshop on campaigning techniques, in which about 50 participated. I was also interviewed by half a dozen newspapers and two TV cameras.
This is the only bare foot conference I have ever attended. The open-air theatre was festooned with brightly colored fabric which acted as awnings for the stage as well as the seating areas. The stage itself was covered by carpets and rugs and cushions, on which no shoes were to tread. At the back of the stage were several translation booths, each for one major language, to which the headsets issued to the delegates could be tuned.
The most memorable event on the stage on this day occurred during “women’s night”. Women from various countries sat in a large circle, each speaking for a few minutes on the rights and plights of women in their respective countries. One speech stuck in my mind – the shortest one. The speaker was a woman in a pink sari. She said, “I am from a village nearby. Tonight, when I return home, I will be beaten by my husband, for speaking up in public, and for defying his direct order. But for the first time in my life, I will joyfully receive it.” And for this, I must let the world know, word for word what she said.
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
February 10, 1999, Sunday, sunny, 8-22C
[22:47 @ the Alsisar Haveli Hotel in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India]
Today is a day of travel and accidents.
Avtar came to the hotel in the mid-morning to pick me up to go to Jaipur for two days of intense activities. In the car was Sultana, who, being an attorney, was going to Jaipur to organize the Rajasthan Legal Tiger Conference set for early April, unfortunately after my departure. She said she was also here to see my presentation. She had missed each and every one of my presentations in Delhi thus far due to her work schedule. We had a high-spirited trip in Avtar’s car. I found myself joking and laughing with them. I heard that a truly depressed person cannot even laugh, so I guess I’m not in a depression, technically speaking. Actually, although I’ve read about it, I can’t say I know what depression really feels like, although I did see it in the emotionally disturbed children I once worked for at Browndale, in the era when Gestalt Therapy and such were all the rage. But small disasters struck along the way.
First, while still in Delhi, Avtar’s car, a 1997 Cielo sedan (1997 – another coincidence?), was rear-ended by another car at a stop light, and got its left tail light shattered and the left rear fender dented.
“At least he is at fault. His insurance should cover it,” I said.
“Insurance?” What insurance?” Avtar said. His solution was to get whatever he could from the other driver on the spot, and/or agree on some compensation at some later date. But the other guy was penniless, so Avtar just drove off, fuming for a few miles.
On the highway, we came across two Tata trucks, both on the side of the road, with extensive front end damage. Later, on a curve, an overloaded truck (you should see what an overloaded truck here looks like) lay on its side, presenting its rusty undercarriage to our passing gaze.
Along the high speed divided highway, there were vehicles going the wrong way, rushing headlong towards us, vehicles sitting in the middle of the fast lane motionless, with big chunks of rock placed around them. The brake lights of most of the vehicles do not work, and in fact, at night, most highway vehicles drive with their lights off to conserve the light bulbs. At least once, without any forewarning, we saw a speed bump rushing at us at highway speeds. Avtar jammed on the brakes, and still bottomed out all his shocks over it. What incompetent bureaucrat could have come up with a transportation system like this?
Speaking of incompetence, I realized, while we were more than 3 hours on the road, that I had forgotten to bring my carousels of slides from Delhi. To the rescue, Avtar said that he had Sarita’s tray of slides in his trunk, but they were a far cry from mine. Anyway, they would have to do. Later, I took Sarita’s slide tray into my room, and rearranged the slides into a serviceable sequence. It’s not all that bad.
While approaching Jaipaur, we topped a hill, and saw the city glowing a surreal pink in the afternoon sun, certainly justifying its nickname “The Pink City”. But once we entered the city, it was another garbage strewn Indian metropolis, albeit one distinguished by a predominance of ruddy colored buildings. Avtar checked me into this fairyland of a hotel, the approach to which being a replay of the Belinda Wright residence experience. One moment, we were in grey, dusty and dingy streets, squeezing through the suffering throng. The next, the car entered a gate, and it was trees and flowers and bird songs and color and this mini palace complete with sculptured courtyards and exotic gardens. My room has a king sized 4-poster bed with a silk canopy under a delicately painted vaulted-ceiling.
After checking in, we went to give a presentation at a private girls’ school, the Indian equivalent of Vancouver’s Crofton House Girls’ School or Little Flower Academy in terms of prestige. As usual, I was surrounded by students for a good hour after my presentation, at the end of which a tiger club was formed. In spite of my missing slides, it was nonetheless a good presentation, this time even with a large screen on which Champions of the Wild was shown, followed by a short speech, then Q&A. The auditorium was full of about 300 secondary school students who sang the Tiger Song with enthusiasm, while the Big Cub, shaking its head in the wind, was admired by the other 1,000+ students out in the football field. Avtar gave a short intro for me and was very complimentary of my work. And, wonder of wonders, there was media present. Also present were Avtar’s mother, Sultana and an officer of Project Tiger named Dr. Ravji whom Avtar considers an excellent organizer, whose organizational ability has been more than borne out, seeing the amount of activities crammed into two short days, including this presentation.
Tomorrow will be a very busy day, with two school presentations, one at 08:30 and the other at 11:30, plus a major media conference at the Press Club at 14:30. After that, we’ll return to Delhi for more school presentations tomorrow.
In the evening we went to a very nice multi-ethnic restaurant for a Rajasthani vegetarian feast, my treat. Upon coming out, we witnessed a woman, while crossing the street, being struck down by an erratically ridden scooter, which carried on to smash into a parked car before coming to rest on its side. Its rider, a young man in a suit and no helmet, lay inertly on the ground.
Avtar went to call the police, and then, while we were driving off, we saw the man sit up, holding his head. “He’s drunk out of his scull,” Avtar said.
Within two blocks, a white dog with black spots, in the company of several other strays, trotted right into the beam of the left headlight of Avtar’s car. The car just knocked it down, then rolled over it – smack thump thump - leaving it screaming in the dust.
Avtar did not stop, nor even slow down, though our gleeful chatter was momentarily suspended. I stated the obvious, “You ran over the dog, Avtar.”
“Yes, I did,” he said nonchalantly, but continued driving. I wanted to have him turn the car around so I could check on the dog, but knew he would not do it. He’d just say, “Oh, come on, Tony,” as he’s done before.
Now it’s past one in the morning. Minutes ago, a wedding procession passed outside the hotel, with loud traditional music playing and the odd firecrackers sounding like gunshots. This momentarily distracted me from my late night agony. I’ve tried to go to sleep for an hour, but images of the crushed yet still screaming dog, half pasted to the ground, bounced around in my head. Inevitably, the dog’s screams turned into a child’s wail, and my stoicism melted inevitably again into tears.
“I could rid you of your pain in a heart beat, if you wish me to.”
“Raminothna, there are times when I would like to grieve in private.”
“My apologies. Whenever you wish to be rid of me, just say so.”
“And if I want you back?”
“Just call my name.”
“My word of honor.”
“The return of peace to your solitude is hard won. I would do nothing to spoil it.”
“Thank you for helping me restore it. Now what about this ridding me of my pain? What does it entail?”
“Very simple. In your brain’s vast neuronal network is a highly developed and well tuned neuronal subcircuit called Christopher. It was built, synapse by synapse, with every experience you shared with Christopher since his birth. Every time you share a new experience, every time he says something new to you, new connections are made. Every time you think of him, the subcircuit is activated, and every time it is activated, it is strengthened. And when the subcircuit is activated, you think of Christopher. Inside the subcircuit are configurations that allow you to see his face and hear his voice in your mind. This subcircuit in itself is suffused with an overabundance of pure love and happiness. But the recent trauma has so damaged it that it has become a source of overwhelming pain. I could easily dismantle the subcircuit for you overnight. All you would wake up with tomorrow morning would be a hangover and a bad dream. After that, if I asked you about Christopher you’d say. ‘Christopher who?’ You would be quite as care-free as if you have never met Christopher in your life. The associated pain and rage would be gone without a trace. I could do it tonight in your sleep if you want me to. A simpler operation would be to simply block that subcircuit. With prolonged disuse, it would atrophy on its own accord. What do you say?”
“I say to hell with you!”
“No need to get testy. Just trying to help.”
“‘Better loved and lost than not having loved at all.’”
“I’m a sucker for human tears, don’t you know.”
“And what do I do if I want to cry alone?”
“Just say so.”
“You wouldn’t mind?”
“Not in the least.”
“Then, with due gratitude for your caring, I would like to be left alone to my grief, for now, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. Good night to you then. Just don’t cry, or I’d come right back.”
“I’ll try not to. Thanks again for caring, Raminothna. Good night.”
“Good night, Anthony.”
“I wish I had your power, Raminothna. Then I would have no human vulnerabilities, and no problem carrying the weight of this world.”
“Yes, but then you’d have the much greater vulnerabilities of a goddess, and be compelled to carry the weight of a million worlds, many as tragic and personal as your own.”
Christopher, I don’t really want to grieve alone. I just want to grieve with you.
* * * * *
February 11, 1999, Thursday, sunny, 7-19C
Good morning, Christopher:
[06:48 @ Room 1, Alsisar Haveli Hotel, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India]
Raminothna appeared to me in a dream last night – a dream of passion. She was the grand dame of ballet, giving her farewell performance. She chose Romeo and Juliet for this pinnacle event of her life. And in the end, Raminothna died with Juliet, in the way Juliet died, as Juliet. Neither heard the thunderous applause before the shocked silence.
It might have something to do with the dreadful magazine article I read in the hotel café yesterday. It was the Feb. 8, 1999 issue of the India Today magazine, whose front cover features a balding white man in his 40s, with his hands on the shoulders of two young blonde boys, one wearing glasses, about 10, and the other not, about 7. The man and the boys were shown in a photo-within-a-photo, one corner of which was burning. The cover story is titled [MURDER OF A MISSIONARY], subtitled [The burning of an Australian social worker and his two sons reveals a growing frenzy of intolerance among Hindu fanatics].
The Inside story, on 7 pages, is titled [BURNING SHAME]. It contains photos of the burnt out hulk of the jeep wagoner in which Graham Stewart Staines, an Australian Christian missionary, and his two son, were sleeping and then burnt alive with gasoline. Some of the photos even show the charred remains of Staines and his two sons in the rear compartment of the hulk. There is also an artist’s 6-step recreation of the event, using a 3-D map, specifying 00:20 on January 23, 1999 as the time of the horrible event, which occurred at the Manoharpur village in the sleepy rural outback of Orissa’s Keonjhar district in Gujurat, where over 30 Hindu-versus-Christian-conflict incidents have erupted. Staines, his wife Glade, daughter Ester and sons Phillip and Timothy, had succeeded in converting half of the village to Christianity, resulting in the Christian half defying and abandoning the Hindu culture and traditional practices, thus dividing the village along religious lines. One photo shows Glade and Ester at the funeral, with the caption, [MISSIONARY ZEAL: Glade and Ester are determined to continue Staines’ work].
This event is extra poignant to me because it occurred after our arrival on Indian soil. On January 23, Jane and Kim and I were embarking on the train that would take us to Kanha, there to change the way of life of the villagers by our own means to our own ends, and perhaps to meet our own fates. I have seen the Gujarati’s craft at the Dilli Haat fair, and have indeed spoken with the Gujarati people. They are nice folk just like the villages around Kanha. And yet, their kin are capable of a horrendous act like this. Do the people in Chichrunpur feel the same about us as the people of Keonjhar feel about the Staineses? When we wade into their midst, we do so with open hearts and in sincere spirit. We have no preconception of what kind of people they are. We could be like sheep walking into a sheep pen, or a wolf den. We really do not know. One thing seems quite consistent. In every village, there will be people who will like you, and there will be people who will dislike you. It all depends on where you stand in relation to them, and where they stand in relation to you. If they are dead set against the park, then the more people one converts to favor the park, the more hated one becomes, as is in the case of the Staines in relation to the Hindus. I do grant that religion is a hotter issue than fuel, perhaps by far.
[23:28 @ Rm. 206, F-18 Inn, Delhi, India]
An exhausting yet invigorating day.
First presentation was 08:30-10:30 at the MGD Girls’ School (senior secondary) which has the most beautiful campus so far I have visited in India, catering also to high caste and rich families. It was almost an impromptu visit, arranged by Dr. Ravji late yesterday. I gave a slideshow instead of the video as in the Indian International School yesterday, and as always, I led them to sing the Tiger Song. Yet again, after the presentation, I was surrounded by a group of girls, all eager, all inspired. I hope their now awakened passion will never flicker out, nor be buried alive ever again.
We were supposed to be at the second school at 11:00. It was an elementary school for poorer children and the school building was somewhat dilapidated, but clean and tidy. As it happened, we didn’t get there till past 11:30. (We’re usually late, but does this time’s being late have anything to do with this school’s lower prestige?) When we arrived, we found the welcoming committee standing expectantly and respectfully at the gate, with three beautiful girls in glowing saris each holding something precious in their hands, and the chief staff members standing beside and behind them. Had they been standing like that for over half an hour? When we alighted from the vehicle, I was ushered forward by two teachers towards the girls who gave me a kind of baptism of color. One of the girls smeared something bright red in the shape of a flame between my eyebrows, the second girl stuck a grain of rice in the flame, and the third placed a multi-hewed and very substantial garland around my neck. Similar honors were bestowed upon Avtar and Sultana. We were then served chai and sweets in the principal’s office, with the teaching staff standing respectfully in waiting, and only after we had finished – and we tried not to seem hurried - were we led to the hall in which over 500 children had already been seated – on the hard floor, in neat rows. Again Avtar gave a short intro, and I was passed the mike, and off I went. It became quite obvious that there was a language gap between me and the younger ones, but I plowed right through the presentation for the older ones. When I was done, Sultana gave a brief summary of my speech in Hindi, after which I was given back the mike to lead the children in the Tiger Song, followed by a very vigorous Q&A period. After that, five beautiful girls in saris sang us a “Welcome to you” song. Finally, there was the wind up ceremony in which we were presented with commemorative plaques, and I, being the guest of honour, was given smaller plaques to present to those students who asked questions, one by one, while the school photographer took photos of each presentation. I can just see it – photos of the foreign dignitary (me) presenting plaques to honoured students, displayed proudly on the walls of the school corridors or maybe a blown up one in the general office. While doing the “balloon tiger” bit, I was again surrounded by kids extending pieces of paper and notebooks for my autograph, and those without notebooks or paper held out their hands for me to autograph on the palms. I’ve taken to sign: “Save the Tiger! Anthony”. The kids walked away with their new treasures, and those with my signature on their hands probably wouldn’t wash them for a week. There were so many kids saying please that in spite of Avtar trying to urge me away, I overstayed for 15 minutes. Finally, I had to be almost dragged away, with Avtar saying, “You have to put an end to it. It will not end by itself.” Still with some 50 kids crowding about, I extricated myself, feeling guilty at their still eager but now disappointed little faces. While the car was drawing away, numerous tiny hands were held out in my direction. I lowered the window and touched as many as I could. Now I know to a small extent what the Pope experiences when he goes through an adoring crowd. It is another minor religious experience. If/when His Holiness ever becomes jaded to it, that should be the day he should resign. For a jaded man to touch these little hands would be a sacrilege – against the children.
There are moments of outstanding clarity in my childhood memory, and more often than not, they would involve some person of influence in my life. These moments could be the points of directional life-changes or of extraordinary life-events. I hope that my talk to them today would be one such life-changing event in the lives and future recall of some of these children.
Next on our agenda was the media conference at the Press Club. When we got there, the grounds outside of the club was already filled with reporters, including the reporter from The Hindu newspapers who did the article when I was in Rajasthan two years ago, with at least three 3 TV cameras present. We set up the Big Cub in the garden, then I gave a slideshow to the gathering of about 25 reporters. After that, we all went inside the Cub for the Q&A. Avtar got two helpers to place a thick wall-to-wall rug inside, and rows of chairs. It was quite a production, quite a scene.
When it was all over, we went back to Madame Grewal’s home – the house where the late great Ravinder Grewal once lived – and she served us dinner. Then, around 17:30, we (Avtar, Sultana, Dr. Ravji and I) went on the road for the 6 hour drive back to Delhi, watching keenly for those treacherous speed bumps this time.
About 20:00, Dr. Ravji directed Avtar to pull into the parking lot of a road-side hotel. With us in tow he made a beeline for the hotel’s cafe where the news was being shown on TV. As if on cue, our segment came up. It was good coverage, but for me it had an uncomfortable element with which I am familiar. Time and again over the last few years, when several people were interviewed with the same question, mine would usually be selected for broadcast for one reason or another, often to the disappointment if not resentment of the others. It happened again tonight. Although Avtar spoke at length at the conference, and was interviewed by at least two TV crews, I was the only one featured in this broadcast. He did not receive even a mention. I diligently avoided looking in his direction, so could not read his body language. I hope he is a bigger person than some of the others. Dr. Ravji proudly introduced me to the rest of the patrons in the café. After the segment, Sultana briefly translated for me what in Hindi was put into my mouth. Almost surprisingly, I was not misquoted – as I’ve been time and again by Canadian media.
Finally, I was brought back to the F-18 Inn back in Delhi shortly after midnight. A very satisfying day. The next two days will be crammed full of presentations and other activities. Then on St. Valentine’s day, the Love-the-Tiger Walk. And then, Kanha, wonderful Kanha, here I come to you again!
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
February 12, 1999, Friday, sunny, 6-20C
[08:44 @ F-18 Inn in Delhi, India]
Waiting for Avtar to call regarding today’s schedule. He said he would call at 08:30, but hasn’t yet. I don’t want to call him, in case there is nothing to get up for and he is still in bed.
Again cranking my brain and spinning my mental wheels in the mud about Christopher. I thought of one more thing I could do that could benefit him, directly, and that is to establish an educational fund for him. But that begs the question as to how much I could spare from month to month to put into this fund. Based upon my income from WCWC, which is CDN$30,000 minus tax, the answer is “next to nothing”. But we all know that my line of work is no way to get rich. It is my choice to be a poor man.
“You are a very rich man, and you can do a lot for Christopher with your wealth.”
“Have you always worked with me on the false assumption that I’m a very rich man? Well, by Indian Standards, I’m certainly well to do, but wealthy? That stretches the imagination by more than a little.”
“You are very rich by even Canadian standards.”
“You’re in India, not in Canada. What would you know about Canadian standards?”
“I am on the planet Earth, and in fact in this Universe, to which Canada belongs.”
“Then you should know that your statement is untrue.”
“Tell me. How many dollars do you have to have before you would begin to consider yourself rich?”
“I don’t know. A million used to do it, but nowadays, to be a millionaire seems no big deal. Let’s say a million. I’m not greedy.”
“Okay, let me try this. I will pay you ten million dollars, right now, in exchange for all the knowledge you have acquired since grade 2.”
“All of it?”
“Every bit and byte of it.”
“Aah, no thanks.”
“I will pay you a hundred million dollars for your power of higher reasoning.”
“I will pay you a billion dollars for you to become a high profile fundamentalistic and creationistic TV evangelist.”
“I wouldn’t do it for ten billion dollars.”
“You just might make ten billion dollars if you are clever and ruthless enough.”
“I will indeed pay you ten billion dollars if you will sell your morals and ethics and integrity and conscience.”
“Not for a hundred billion dollars.”
“I will indeed pay you a hundred billion dollars, for your health. You would then have the first year’s Earth healing budget, while being racked by unbearable pain every day.”
“Last offer. I will pay you one trillion dollars, if you will me sell your soul.”
“And what would you do with it?’
“I’d just toss it carelessly into Hell.”
“Not for sale.”
“Then consider yourself a very rich man, by any standard. Your financial contribution to Christopher’s wellbeing may be meager, but what you could give him from your non-financial assets could be monumental.”
[20:32 @ F-18 Inn in Delhi, India]
This morning’s presentation at the Springdales School was less than ideal. First off, poor organization, again. In our absence, Sarita set the time of the presentation with the school for 10:00. We arrived too late last night for her to contact Avtar, and there was no message left for him to the effect. And she did not call Avtar about it until 09:55, when he was still in his pajamas. Avtar himself was supposed to call me at 08:30, but did not until 09:58, with the news about 10:00. So, we hurriedly picked Sarita up at Avtar’s office, then sped to the school. When we finally arrived at the school, it was already 10:40. So, what’s new?
The school itself could have done better, though given our lateness we should be thankful they did not cancel on us. The auditorium was huge, easily capable of seating 1,000 people, and well equipped, with a big screen and built-in video projector, but the school put only about 80 kids there, who were members of their environmental club. The teacher said she didn’t want to play favorites, so, instead of letting some of the other kids come in to fill the auditorium and not letting others, since the school was 2,000 strong, she decided to not to let anyone in at all other than the club members. So, I was left to speak to an almost empty hall, with two thousand eager kids outside. The slide projector again acted up, and I decided to can the slideshow and have an interactive session with the children instead. They were shy and reluctant to raise their hands, and I had to incite them into action. But when after a minute or two they began to loosen up and speak out, Sarita seized the mike from my hand and launched into her own diatribe, in Hindi. She could have good things to say, but this is not the way to do it. I finally reclaimed the mike from her after about 10 minutes, and did have a good discussion with some very intelligent questions from the students.
All in all, even though the trip to Jaipur thawed my feelings for Avtar somewhat, this morning’s performance gave me pause again regarding the wisdom of continuing the WCWC/TF partnership.
The afternoon’s presentation to a group of about 70 tourism students at the College of Vocational Studies, however, was thoroughly satisfying. Amera Jiwani, one of Avtar’s friends whom I met back in 1997, is a teacher there. She checked out several rooms with us, most being too bright for the slideshow, and finally settled us in the computer lab, which was adequate. They gave me all the time I wanted, so I gave an unrushed and therefore quality presentation, with an ecotourism slant. And they gave me their full attention. The best indicator was that a group of computer students who initially were not a part of the audience after awhile closed down their computers and joined in. They all agreed that the gate charge for foreign tourists at all India parks should be raised at least 10 fold and have the proceeds shared 50/50 park/villagers. We thought that only young children could be idealistic, but these young adults showed us how fired up they too could be. They wanted to write to various powers-that-be as well as the media. They are organizing a bus to go to the Love-the-Tiger Walk en masse. Avtar added one point, that there would be draw-prizes in the walk, including a trip to Bandhavgarh. I’ve never been one for gimmicks, and have pretty well closed my eyes to the gimmicky aspects of WCWC’s tiger walks. One of the students worded it perfectly, “If they come for the prize, they should not come at all.” One young man recited “Tiger, tiger, burning bright, in the forests of the night…” with an ecstatic look on his face. We were transfixed.
Avtar and Sarita are scrambling to make the “Love the Tiger Walk” work. Blocking their way is the Indian bureaucracy. Witness the following letter, dated Feb. 11, 1999:
“From: Government of India, National Zoological Park, Mathura Road, New Delhi 110003
To: Tiger Trust
Sir: I am referring to your letter regarding “Save the Tiger Walk” at National Zoological Park. I am to inform you that no function is allowed which is not related to the zoo. If at all the function is to be conducted, then you are advised to approach Ministry of Environment & Forest for Approval.
Dr. B.R. Sharma, IFS
Now what the heck has a march through downtown New Delhi to do with Environment and Forest is totally beyond me.
Verbally, they have told Avtar: no loud speakers, no speeches, no Big Cub, no food, perhaps no banners. Avtar and Sarita are right now trying to find an alternative, perhaps the Project Tiger office about 0.5 km from the zoo for speeches, Big Cub, etc.
Sarita, who calls Avtar “sir” and is very efficient in carrying out Avtar’s orders, just received a phone call while I was there from an Indian television station who wants to interview me at the Tiger Walk for their On the Edge conservation program. We’ll see what the Walk will bring.
For dinner I just wandered around the hotel and walked into the first restaurant that looked appealing. I did not realize it was Gujurati food until I had ordered, and ate with the horrible magazine photo images of the charred bodies of the Staineses in the burnt out hulk of their vehicle foremost in my mind’s eye.
After dinner, I dropped by Avtar’s place to send some e-mail. I want to try sending another email to Christine. Surely doing it by email wouldn’t hurt. After about half an hour’s trying, I finally got online, only to find that her email address no longer existed. I did my best to conceal my distress.
When I was done, Avtar showed me four Rajasthan newspapers, all in Hindi, all featuring our campaign. At least two have our Big Tiger Cub on page A1, and one even has my picture right above Clinton and Lewinsky. I cannot read a single word in these articles, but their lengths are telling. A few almost took up a full page. And there will be more, at least one – the Hindu – in English, which Avtar does not yet have. A media coup at last, thanks to Dr. Ravji, but then again, it begs the question: “Less than two days in Jaipur and we get all these and more. So what about Delhi, Avtar?” After all this time, I still have to see the first printed word in any Delhi newspaper as a result of my visit. I feel that opportunities are slipping away, one day at a time.
Another catch-22. I would have to wait this long to know that Avtar has no intention of getting media coverage for my school presentations in Delhi, which would make for fairly in depth newspaper articles on the plight of the Bengal tiger in India and what is NOT being done to save it. But now that I finally get to know this, I have no time to do anything about it. So I just let it slide. But I don’t have to be happy about it. I did ask Avtar about media coverage for the Love the Tiger Walk. He said smugly that media would be there in droves. I’ll believe it when I see it. And even if so, we would still have lost a major opportunity to reach millions in a truly educational manner.
I returned to my hotel room half elated, half dejected. But whatever balance these may strike was obliterated by the far greater balance of my love for Christopher and hatred for Christine, both with a passion. When and where the two meet, emotional tornados would rip my world apart. I haven’t slept well since February 3. Tonight promises to be another tosser and turner.
Good night, Christopher.
1999-02-12-5 The Hindu, national, India
[Need to protect tigers stressed]
“The Canadian conservationist, Mr. Anthony Marr, believes that India is the Tiger Country and the last domain of tigers in the world. Tiger is the symbol of India and it is for Indians to protect this animal, which is on the verge of extinction with only 4500 or so in all five species in the wild at present. Mr. Marr, who is of Chinese extraction, is apologetic about the role of his country of origin in making the tiger a haunted animal… The Chinese make medicines out of tiger parts and, in the process, import as many as 300 dead tigers from India and Russia a year…
Owning up to his birth country is the penitent Mr. Marr when he says that he is paying the penalty for his countrymen by campaigning (against the Chinese tradition)…
… In the Pink City (Jaipur), Mr. Marr lectured to 2500 school children in three schools. In Delhi, he had a captive audience of children in 10 schools. He is convinced that children are India’s hope for its national animals the tiger…"
* * * * *
February 13, 1999, Saturday, sunny, chokingly smoggy, 8-22C
[07:13 @ the Magnificent Tours office]
At the office, there was a surprise. I thought yesterday’s Springdale presentation was a wash out. Well, Sarita just came in with a whole batch of student art and slogans from that school. Following are some excerpts from the slogans:
“Tiger’s soul is our life, so why kill ourselves?”
“Tiger conservation is the need of the hour; save it, because you have the power! Save the King, save the Kingdom!”
“Tiger’s eyes are very bright. Don’t take away their light. The tigers are the forest’s soul. Don’t make a bullet hole.”
“We have to heed the tiger’s scream, for we have to save this earth, which is turning into a ghastly dream!”
“Shoot the tigers with a camera, not with a gun. Capture them on film, not in cages. Save the Tigers!”
“We can afford to buy gold, but tigers are priceless.”
“If my family can have generations, why can’t the tigers have some too?”
“Save the Pride of India, before it becomes India’s forgotten glory!”
“We can recreate Taj Mahal, but only God can recreate the tiger.”
How about that, people? Take note, Canadian kids!
Avtar is commissioning somebody to make a few large banners with these slogans printed on them for tomorrow’s Love the Tiger Walk. His maneuvers against Indian red tape continue.
[17:31 @ Avtar’s office]
The presentation today was at the Guru Harkrishan Public School, the one Avtar used to attend as a child. It was to about 300 ninth-graders, boys and girls. The audience was mostly Sikh, with the boys in sky blue turbans, and both girls and boys in white and blue uniforms. Again we arrived late. It just seems as if it is an enormous effort for things to be done on time around here. Usually, even if we’re on time, the people at the school would chat among themselves ad nauseum to solve tiny problems such as the power cord, etc., until we’re again late to start. Very bad form on both parts. Today, we were late, and they had technical problems, including a blackout in the entire district.
On the screen was Kanha tigress Pipal in all her glory, burning bright in the noonday sun. But when the power went out, the shining sun, the glowing landscape, the burning tiger… just plain disappeared.
In the dark Raminothna said through me, astonishing me only after I had spoken, “Well boys and girls, it seems that the brilliant sun is extinguished by the absence of light from a mere light bulb in the projector. So let me take this opportunity to say, that likewise, in every mind in this room are stored many such shining pictures, moving stories, magnificent epics, monuments of civilization, oceans of blood, sweat and tears, and, most of all, inspired visions still to be realized and beautiful dreams still to come true. But without our kindling and constantly rekindling the flames that burn within each and everyone of us, we may as well all be blind within our respective bodily abodes. Let it burn, on the other hand, and, with 20/20 insight, you may see the Masterplan of the Universe, find the Way of the Cosmos, and read the Mind of God.”
To cover up my own astonishment, I charged ahead without the slides or PA with a discussion session until the power came back on after 10 minutes or so, and then restarted the slideshow where I left off. The group today was rowdier than normal, but became quite attentive after the blackout. The discussion helped to engage them in the issue. After the presentation, I was again surrounded by a group of girls seeking my guidance as to how to save the tiger right now. I kick started another tiger club on the spot with them, and gave them a copy of a recent tiger article with my contact information written on it. We parted with the mutual promise to exchange e-mails when I get back to Canada. When I was walking around the school building seeking a good vantage point to video and photograph Big Cub and the children around it, including going up and down the concrete staircase of the school, I was again mobbed and swamped by adoring children - in the corridors, up the stairwell, on the grounds, all with their hands earnestly extended for just a brush of the jacket I was wearing. I felt my hair (long) being touched from behind numerous times. I taped the proceedings as best I could, including especially the children.
The new Gypsy Avtar ordered, supposedly for Tiger Fund, is ready for pick up in Delhi, and it needs to be driven to Kanha. Momentarily, I considered doing it myself, but Avtar has already booked me a plane ticket for me for a flight to Nagpur Monday evening. I will overnight there and catch a ride the following morning to Kanha.
Well, today’s are the last school presentations before the Tiger Walk. It’s been a good run, with high peaks never experienced in Canada. The only drawback, which I consider a huge loss of opportunity, is the complete lack of media coverage of the school events. It would have motivated the students of other schools so much.
Cricket is really big here in India, and it dominates the airwaves. Having inevitably watched bits and pieces of a few matches on TV, I’m beginning to know the game. Still I can’t say it’s made a captive spectator out of me.
But I’ve been making good use of it. In the last few speeches, I’ve achieved excellent results by starting with the recent India v Pakistan tournament, which swept the entire nation with cricket fever. I say something like this: “I’ve seen your great passion. I’ve seen your national pride. Now that the tournament is over, would it be too much for me to ask you to pledge just 10% of your passion and national pride to saving India’s Bengal tiger? If you would, I would consider it saved.” I also say, “How would you feel if a burglar breaks into your home to steal your most prized possession? Right now, as we speak, foreign criminals are infiltrating your country, stealing your greatest national treasure. What are you going to do about it?” By the end of the presentation, they are sizzling. They are fuming, raving ready to save their national animal, their national symbol, the soul of their nation, the Royal Bengal tiger.
Dealing with bureaucracy myself, I discovered a major weakness in the Indian governmental system.
I’ve known that BC’s Environment Ministry is somewhat subservient to the Forest Ministry, and this is the source of many of our habitat and species conservation problems. Now, imagine that the BC government has no Environment Ministry at all, and environmental matters, wildlife included, is under the jurisdiction of the Forest Ministry. What do you think is going to happen to the Grizzly bear habitat, and to the Grizzlies themselves? Well, this is exactly the situation in India here. What do you think is going to happen to tiger habitat and the tigers themselves?
I looked up Billy Arjan Singh’s Tiger Book. It says, “The largest foreign exchange earner in Africa is their wildlife in the tourism industry. In India, though we eulogize the tourist potential of the Taj Mahal, Khajuraho and the Ajanta Caves, the Forest Department discourages wildlife tourism… The Forest Department is a commercial organization, and the priorities for postings among its staff incumbents are with Social Forestry, the Forest Corporation, the Plantation Division, and the Territorial Division. Wildlife with no economic affiliation is shunned by all administrative personnel and is considered a punishment posting; for the dropouts, the corrupt and the inefficient… the various departments are not willing to allocate further land to wildlife, particularly because the Wildlife Act does not permit commercial operations in these areas… the Forest Department will not allow forested areas to be transferred to wildlife projects. Forestry and wildlife are antagonistic subjects, and cannot meaningfully be administered by the same facility. A ‘clean’ forest floor is the dream of the forester, but is the anathema to the wildlife enthusiasts. The precept that wildlife will exist where there are forests is entirely misplaced.”
Second parallel. We have all experienced the BC government’s overblown Grizzly bear population estimate to justify continued hunting. The Tiger Book says, “The numbers game continues to dominate… (tiger population) census figures were inflated to impossible numbers by Field Directors relying on pug mark tracings by untrained and irresponsible personnel. The Corbett Park figure, supposedly at saturation density of 44 in 1972, was escalated to 112 by 1985-89… Compared with the Serengeti National Park in Africa with a 5.5% increase for the social lion, an overall increase of 25% was presented for the solitary tiger. Census were treated as status symbols by individual directors, and my suggestion at a meeting of the Indian Board for Wildlife, that Field Directors should be switched around during census time was discarded by the Director of the project. Unbridled numbers continued to escalate…” Let alone the 10,000-13,000 Grizzly population estimate, can we trust even the pitiable 2,000-2,500 for the tiger?
Third parallel. Imagine federal Canada has an Endangered Species Act, but the provincial governments, being of different parties, and answering to local voters’ demands, more often than not choose to contravene the Act, and there is nothing the feds can do about it. Let me quote again from the Tiger Book:
“The stark reality of the situation is that state governments cannot and will not resist the pressure of their voting public to destroy a perceived danger (the tiger) to their lives and livelihood. With an exploding population and an agricultural economy - unrestrained plantation of sugarcane, which decimate wild ungulate prey species, and the state (provincial) government sanctioned proliferation of sugar factories, which bring some employment to local communities – the end will come with the extinction of the tiger. State governments… which have an insensate resentment to accepting guidelines offered by the Central government… have been unwilling to share expenses with the Centre, and with different parties holding power in different states, the direction of the Centre is unheeded, and chaos reigns supreme.”
There’s more, but this should be enough to give you a splitting headache. Sorry, folks.
Anyway, Christopher, by the time you read this, if you ever do, all these points may have become moot - in the event that the Bengal tiger had fallen extinct. For your sake, I will do my absolute best to save them for you, to perpetuity.
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
February 14, 1999, Sunday, sunny, 9-26C
[14:59 @ Avtar’s office]
Just participated in accomplishing a small but glorious deed – the Love-the-Tiger Walk, Delhi, of course – on a windy day where the air was extra clear (or should I say, unusually unsmoggy). Avtar expected about 200 people to show up, and he was accurate. But small as the troop was, the event was certainly photogenic. They printed four versions of full-color bumper stickers with tiger graphic backgrounds and the words of Tim Murphy’s Tiger Song. They made tiger-striped headbands, which most people wore around their necks. They purchased about ten kid-sized tiger suits, and there was no shortage of very enthusiastic volunteer wearers. They created half a dozen huge golden silk banners featuring the winning slogans in the school slogan-contest. Speakers included S.C. Sharma (Inspector of Forest and Wildlife, Indian Central Government ), P.K. Sen (head of Project Tiger), Avtar and myself, with Sarita serving as a very presentable MC. Four TV cameras showed up, plus several top Indian newspapers including the Times of India. One of the TV networks is said to range as far west as London, as far east as Hong Kong. We marched from the Delhi Zoo to the office of Project Tiger about 3 km distant, with police escort which stopped traffic whenever necessary. We marched along major thoroughfares, through the expansive India Gate lawns and the magnificent India Gate itself. The march started from a line of ancient ruins adjacent to the zoo and passed several others en route. Marching at the head of the troop with my long hair loose, dressed in my black Save the Tiger T shirt, black Canadian army boots laced over Canadian army pant-legs, with a tiger-face T shirt tied behind me around my waist and a tiger head band around my neck, hefting my still camera and the WCWC Hi 8 Sony video cam, I must have made an extraordinary sight in the eyes of the average Indian in the street. On top of leading the parade, I also led in singing the Save-the-Tiger Song. The children, and adults, too, turned heads with their enthusiastic singing.
lead (me) chorus (marchers, esp. children) melody
SAVE THE TIGER Save the tiger (doe-ray-mee-doe)
THEY’RE OUR FRIENDS They’re our friends (mee-fa-so)
THE TIGERS ARE IN TROUBLE The tigers are in trouble (so-la-so-fa-mee-doe)
LET’S HELP THEM Let’s help them (doe-so-doe)
SAVE THE TIGER Save the tiger (doe-ray-mee-doe)
THEY’RE OUR FRIENDS They’re our friends (mee-fa-so)
THE TIGERS ARE IN TROUBLE The tigers are in trouble (so-la-so-fa-mee-doe)
LET’S HELP THEM Let’s help them (doe-so-doe)
And so on, and so on. There was a bunch of children right behind me who belted out the chorus with all their might. The expressions on their faces – those who weren’t wearing tiger masks – were as aroused as children’s faces could get. After I’ve sung my throat hoarse, I appointed the most enthusiastic of them – a girl of about 12 - to sing the lead. She took her task so seriously that the song seemed cranked out from a perpetual motion machine. I videotaped the entire proceedings.
Credit is largely due to Avtar and Sarita, who did work hard to put on a quality show.
One slightly down note, or should I say, down-to-earth note. Both Sharma and Sen are Central Government bureaucrats. Their speeches sounded pro-conservation, lofty and enlightened, but given what I observed yesterday of Central Government bureaucracy, and recalling what was written about the ineffectiveness of the Central Government in Arjan Singh’s book, and having experienced the near autonomy of the provincial and lesser governments, I don’t know how much good their good will could do.
Of course I missed Christopher greatly while leading the children. I would so love to have him walk next to me, and to hold him in my arms when he gets tired. I would like to imprint in his young mind our glorious day for our glorious cause. Of course, even if Christine did not do what she did, is still doing, and will continue to do, Christopher would be too young to make the arduous journey, but I would love to take Christopher on the 1999 WCWC Save The Tiger Walk at Stanley Park in Vancouver. Given what has happened, taking Christopher to anything would seem an impossibility.
[19:03] Avtar just phoned me, telling me that we were on prime time TV. He said they zoomed in on my butt (where the tiger-face on my second T shirt tied around my waist was located). This could potentially be the most photogenic footage of the Tiger’s Forever campaign ever, my butt not withstanding. Unfortunately, I missed it, and they didn’t tape it. Still, the important thing is that millions of people saw it, and that objective has been achieved.
This still does not justify the total absence of media coverage for the school presentations, which will remain a significant failure no matter how well the Tiger Walk has worked out.
As always after an event, I spent the ensuing hours reflecting on it. As the scenes replayed themselves through my mind, I came upon the children belting out the Save the Tiger song. I thought, “If she knows what I know now, including everything I learned in secondary school and university, and all I have self-taught and self learned before and after my university graduation, and all the life-experiences one cannot help but accumulate, and all the love won and lost… - what I would not sell for a hundred million dollars. I zoomed in to the 12 year-old girl leading the song. If she knows what I know now, what could she not achieve by the time she reaches 30? Best of luck to you, whoever you are.
“You’re saying that if this girl knew what you know, she would be able to achieve anything by 30 latest?”
“Yes, I believe I said that, and I believe it, within reason of course..”
“That would be 18 years from now, correct?”
“How old are you now?”
“55 plus 18 equals?”
“Do you currently know what you currently know?”
“What kind of a question is that? Of course I do.”
“Then, according to you, you will be able to achieve anything by age 73 latest.”
Of course I wish you a very successful life, Christopher. Good night.
1999-02-14 TigerLink, India, global
[Love the Tiger Walk, Delhi]
…on St. Valentine’s Day… The participants chanted slogans and sang a tiger conservation song lead by Mr. Anthony Marr, Tiger Campaign Director, WCWC…
At Bikaner House the gathering was addressed by Mr. P.K. Sen, Director of Project Tiger, Mr. S.C. Sharma, Addl. Inspector General Forests (Wildlife), Angarika Guha, Class III student from Sri Ram Public School, Mr. Anthony Marr…
* * * * *
February 15, 1999, Monday, sunny, 10-25C
[21:36 @ Rm. 123, the Jagsons Regency Hotel, Nagpur]
I woke up from a multifaceted dream that deserves serious and in depth contemplation. It could be of pivotal importance to the future course of my life’s pursuit. I will try to record it in a way that can do it justice, later.
This morning I called Mom and Dad to wish them happy Chinese New Year – the Year of the Hare. I probably woke them up, but they were of course excited to hear from me. Matthew, my younger brother, will be taking them out to lunch tomorrow, and told them that he received a call from Sue of WCWC about me being alive and well. They’ve accepted my globe trotting life style with equanimity and even pride. Love them deeply, with gratitude.
Later in the morning, Avtar and I went to his office. First thing I did was to send off my last e-mail to WCWC. Then, at noon, he drove me to the interview with Camelle Gill of Today’s Traveler magazine. Another screw up by Raman and/or Sarita last week was that they made an appointment for me with Ms. Gill for last Thursday, but did not tell me about it, which kept Ms. Gill waiting a full hour for me in vain. I called Ms. Gill to apologize on behalf of Tiger Fund, and reset the appointment for today…This is an important article for Avtar since Ms. Gill’s is a travel magazine. Both he and I were interviewed at length. It will be an excellent article. When I told her about some of my adventures with the villagers, and told her about my field journal, she perked up, and asked me to send her excerpts of the journal for another article.
Yesterday, I received one letter each from Jane and CJ in the lovingly-custom-made envelopes by CJ delivered by someone from Kanha.
The one by Jane says:
“I am sending this note via Veejay the ornithologist who had been at Kanha assisting Ed Cambridge with one of his tours.
“If you have time in your hectic schedule, I would appreciate it if you could bring the following from Delhi:
“1. a Hindi phrasebook or a Hindi dictionary (with English definitions and phonetic pronunciation) so I can learn to communicate, however pitifully, in this language.
“2. literature from Tiger Fund and WC2 explaining the organizations. The guests here have been anxious for such information, and of course we have nothing to give them.
“3. A big world map for the school. I think it would be nice for the kids if they could understand where the visitors come from and a little bit about each country.
“Looking forward to chatting with you soon. We have much to discuss! Say hi to Sarita and Raman for me.
The one from CJ says:
“2-12-99 In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the tiger sleeps tonight.
“Greetings from the other side. Please know that all is well and we are anxiously awaiting your return to the lodge. At present, we are slowly constructing our giant cooker in hopes that we’ll have some tests performed before your arrival (in a perfect world). So, I’m taking advantage of this opportunity to request a small service.
“As you know, I am awaiting news from home in regards to my plane tickets and this news likely resides in my e-mail account.____________, password: ________.
“If you wouldn’t mind accessing and printing off the new e-mails with special attention to any sent from __________ (if there are too many) my attorney. I am hoping that these updated e-mails provide some insight into the plane issue. We’ll see.
“Thank you for your time; hope this doesn’t take you over the edge after having to deal with new Indian fans bouncing you around the big blowup cat.
Well, for CJ, Avtar and I found over 60 messages since December 98, all unread. Avtar spent a whole hour personally downloading the non-trash ones into a Word file and loaded it into my floppy before driving me to the interview.
The interview lasted almost 2 hours, after which I took a cab to the Palika Bazaar near Connaught Circle – an underground maze of hundreds of small shops of all kinds – and got there around 14:30. I rushed around and in record time found and bought 6 Hi-8 cassettes (Rs300 each), a wicked (you shall see) Hindi-English phrase book (Rs125) and a world atlas (Rs515; I would prefer a world globe, but nowhere available). I had needed to dupe the Champions of the Wild video, but even after several days’ calling, the Delhi people still couldn’t get around to doing it. Anyway, most of the stuff that needed to be done has been done.
Tomorrow morning at 06:00, somebody will pick me up from this hotel in Nagpur and drive me to Kanha, to arrive in time for lunch.
So yet again, I’ve said goodbye to Delhi. The experience was largely positive, and Avtar succeeded to impress upon me that if/when he puts his heart into a task, if he applies himself like the full time campaigner that he was in these two weeks in Delhi and Jaipur, even factoring in his total failure in generating media for the school presentation, which I allocate to treachery more than incompetence, he could accomplish great things. But this merely begs the long-standing question even more: Where is his heart the other 50 weeks of the year? For the CIDA grant, we are supposed to choose a full-time dedicated NGO, not a part-time NGO that is subservient to the business interest of a commercial enterprise. And what I have observed in Delhi does not negate a single word I wrote in Kanha regarding my misgiving in grant handling, and the effectiveness or lack thereof of the Indian part of our tiger conservation program.
At first sight, the Tiger Walk media coverage seemed acceptable, but upon closer scrutiny, they are mostly no-depth one-line captions under single photos mentioning Tiger Fund but not WCWC. In contrast, the two days in Jaipur organized by Dr. Ravji generated some 7-8 detailed and in-depth newspaper articles on tiger conservation based upon the school outreach program, and 2-3 TV pieces, with WCWC prominently featured, although, when I asked someone to translate one of the Hindi pieces, I heard, “… the big balloon tiger belonging to Tiger Fund under Mr. Avtar Grewal…”
The flight from Delhi to Nagpur was Indian Airline’s subcontractor Alliance Airlines flight 469 Delhi-Raipur-Nagpur. An unnerving flying experience, and not for the first time. First off, while boarding the plane – an old Boeing 737 - I could not help but notice its decrepit condition, inside and out. Its paint was smudged with soot. There were even wall and ceiling panels missing, with the wiring underneath exposed. While descending into the Nagpur airport, with the runway flashing by beneath my seat, the plane suddenly poured on power and climbed steeply, then did a steep banking 360 and landed with a bone-jarring thump, hard enough to cause one of the ceiling panels to come crashing down on to the aisle. This bounced the plane back up, which then came back down some seconds later in a more normal-feeling touch down. This was not the first time I’ve experienced such a landing. Back in 1997, one of the Nagpur landings was hard enough to convince me of the great strength of the plane’s landing gear. While deplaning, I heard some clunking sound from the left engine and some airport personnel looking up at it. For a flying experience of a lifetime, fly Alliance!
Anyway, a chapter is written and closed. I’m so looking forward to getting back to Kanha. I don’t know if the more tranquil setting of the Jungle Lodge will be better or worse in terms of my agony for Christopher, but I’m more than willing to face whatever the outcome.
This is about it for today. So here is the dream, which I have come to call “To Conceive the ‘Inconceivable’”.
I was walking in a flat and vast desert, following a being of light named Raminothna, towards a volcano to the south. As I reached the foot of the volcano, I came upon the ruins of an ancient city.
It was square shaped, set to the four points of the compass. It had high external walls over ten feet thick and a mile long per side, built of huge and precisely cut blocks of stone. I entered through its north gate, the one facing away from the volcano. While passing beneath the huge archway, I looked up, and saw the name of the city, carved in stone, in ancient Chinese pictographic script: TRUE TAO.
Within the city, the avenues were all east-west in orientation. The blocks were of odd lengths, ranging as if randomly from as few as one house to more than ten houses per block. There were no straight north-south streets to speak of, except for the two running along the inside of the east and west walls of the city. Unlike the conventional back-to-back twin-rows of houses in the normal city block, these blocks comprised single rows of free standing houses, with their fronts facing the avenue to the south, and their back gardens facing the avenue to the north.
The houses were also built of precisely cut and fitted blocks of stone, so the ruins were in excellent condition, though their roofs, made of lumber, had all long since collapsed, and their remains had all but fossilized.
Where in the middle of a vast desert did the lumber come from? It was once a lush forest, Raminothna told me.
It was not until the second avenue before Raminothna led my attention to the writings on the walls. On the front wall of this particular house was carved, “IN THE COSMOS, THE WAY OF MAN ACCORDS TO THE WAY OF THE EARTH, WHICH ACCORDS TO THE WAY OF THE SKY, WHICH IN TURN ACCORDS TO THE WAY OF THE COSMOS – THE TAO – AND THE TAO SIMPLY IS, ACCORDING TO ITS OWN NATURE.”
The TAO-TEH-CHING – the canon of Taoism.
“What does this passage mean to you?” Raminothna asked me.
“It means that if we understand the TAO, we’d know the optimal WAY OF MAN.”
“What do you think of the current WAY OF MAN?”
Returning to the first house of the first avenue, I read on its front wall, “THE TAO THAT CAN BE SPOKEN IS NOT THE TRUE TAO.”
Thus, from house to house, from block to block, I read the Tao Teh Ching in its entirety, until I arrived at the last verse on the front walls of the houses on last block of the southern-most avenue of the city.
At one point near the centre of the city, I arrived at a verse that gave me a moment’s pause, which read: “THE WISE RULER STRIVES TO STRENGTHEN THE BONE OF HIS SUBJECTS, BUT WEAKEN THEIR WILL, FOR A STRONG-BONED AND WEAK-WILLED PEOPLE WOULD BE EASY TO RULE, AND THE REIGN SHALL PROSPER.”
As if to underscore these dictums, there was a large carving on the inside of the great arch over the north gate of the city, in a somehow cruder hand, which read: “IF ONE ASKS ABOUT THE NATURE OF THE TAO AND ANOTHER ANSWERS, NEITHER KNOW IT.”
“Thus they maintained twenty-six centuries of silence, as if they knew it?” said Raminothna.
When I finally got to the south gate, and looked up at its arch and read: “THOU SHALT NOT CLIMB THE MOUNTAIN OF KNOWLEDGE OF REALITY AND ILLUSION. ALL THOU NEED KNOW OF THE TRUE TAO ARE WITHIN THESE WALLS. THE PENALTY IS DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS FOLLOWED BY ETERNAL TORTURE IN THE UNDERWORLD.”
On the walls on either side of the south gate were the only pictorial carvings on any wall in the city, which depicted scenes of hideous torture, some beyond my imagination.
“Which explains why a once great school of philosophy has turned into a house of sorcery,” said Raminothna sadly.
“I’m puzzled,” I said to Raminothna after the waves of horror, nausea and shock had subsided. “What harm would it do for the citizens to climb the mountain? How could that impact on the belief system cast in stone within the city? Are there more carvings up in the crater of the volcano that tell the real truth of the city or the real truth of the Tao? Or is this just a blatant demonstration of absolute power for its own sake?”
“Why don’t you go and find out?”
I hesitate in fear. Whereupon, without a single comment or explanation, Raminothna rose like a meteor, and disappeared into the crater of the volcano.
I wandered amidst the ruins for weeks, documenting every little new find, but I did not climb the Mountain of Knowledge of Reality and Illusion, although the urge to climb it grew stronger by the day. The volcano was constantly looming over my head. Its mystery grew daily more tempting, its beckoning more and more irresistible, and my desire to climb became all but an obsession. At long last, I succumbed.
“About time,” said Raminothna who was waiting for me in the crater of the volcano.
I looked around. There was nothing but black and jagged volcanic rock. I walked along the inside wall of the crater; there was not a single carving to be found.
“So? Where is the disillusionment? I was expecting at least a burning bush.”
Raminothna brought me back to the crater’s rim. The view was unquestionably breath-taking. “You have seen the writing on the wall. Now, behold the writings on the plain.”
I looked down upon the horizon-spanning plane, then at the ruins beneath my feet, and all at once, the illusion was plain as day. The city of the TRUE TAO was laid out like an open book on a vast tabletop, where each house was a letter, each block a word, and the entire city the fully message, all in English strangely enough, which read as follows:
The TRUE TAO – THE “INCONCEIVABLE” WAY OF THE COSMOS - IS IN FACT conceivable and needs to be conceived. The key to the conceiving of the TAO is in the TAO-THE-CHING itself. The key word in the TAO-the-CHING is “NATURE” - that to which the TAO itself accords. UNDERSTANDING NATURE is key to KNOWing the TAO, which is key to KNOWing the optimal “WAY OF MAN”. The COSMOS is ALL-THINGS. The study of THE NATURE OF THINGS are THE SCIENCES. Consider a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, each piece being one sub-science. Take one piece, any piece, and examine it with the microscope of your mind, and you cannot exhaust it in detail. But integrate all the pieces into one, THE SCIENCES collectively transcend into OMNI-0MNISCIENCE – the study of the UNIVERSE – THE-WHOLE-THING. View OMNI-SCIENCE from a distance, and the BIG PICTURE – a new model of the universe - an omniscientific cosmology - is revealed, one of such order and simplicity it could be described in TWO WORDS – two hitherto “UNSPEAKABLE” words. The TAO is speakable and must be spoken, that HUMANITY may accord itself to the earth.
“What if I say that this omniscientific cosmology is a model that lends powerful insight into the Tao, instead of its being the Tao itself? It strikes me that the latter is a very bold statement, as bold as if someone says to me, ‘I am Christ.’”
“Whatever you prefer, as long as those two words are the same ones. May the ‘Inconceivable’ soon be conceived; may the ‘Unspeakable’ soon be spoken,” said Raminothna.
“How soon is soon?”
“As soon as possible. While you’re still in India, preferably.”
“Why? That’s only a month and a half away, maximum. We humans have failed to do it for twenty six centuries.”
“My remaining time on Earth is short.”
“My anchoring tree will be cut down in the very near future, I’m afraid. Once that happens, I’ll be gone. If in mid-conversation I suddenly disappear, that would be the cause.”
“Those goddamned woodcutters! May they roast in hell!”
“Have compassion, my love. Compassion. They need me, if only for a moment’s warmth.”
“I know that, Raminothna, I know that.”
Good night, Christopher.
1999-02-15-1 The Statesman, India
[A valentine for the big cat]
An unusual “Valentine Day” message was displayed by tiger enthusiasts in the Capital who went on a brisk march from Delhi Zoo to the head quarters of Project Tiger at Bikaner House, to spread the message of conservation.
Children and adults held up banners for the “Love Tiger Walk”… (Organizers) pointed out that the largest cat n the world today has a mortality rate of two per day in the world and one per day in India alone.
“Especially as a tigress does not have another litter till her young can support themselves, it is so much necessary to support the ones which are alive, as they do not breed rapidly like other species,” said a child who participated in the march.
A video show, an inflatable tiger blimp and presentations by eminent conservationists were some of the features of the march, which was supported (in part) by the WCWC.
1999-02-15-1 The Indian Express, India
[Tiger, tiger burning bright]
A tiger balloon at the Love the Tiger Walk at the Delhi Zoo on Sunday…
1999-02-15-1 The Hindu, national, India
[Valentines tiger lovers]
… A team comprising Mr. Anthony Marr, campaign director of WCWC… has been making slide presentations, holding video shows and having interactions inside a 50-feet inflatable tiger balloon…
They have been received with great enthusiasm by more than 5,000 students of various age groups. Painting competitions and slogan contests have also been organized as part of the campaign…
1999-02-15-1 The Pioneer, national, India
[‘Save Tiger’ walk]
Wildlife lovers walked through the busy streets of the national Capital on Valentine’s Day on Sunday to show their love for the tiger, which faces the threat of extinction…
1999-02-15-1 The Hindustan Times, national, India
[Save the tiger]
A 50-foor balloon tiger at the National Zoological Park to generate awareness among the masses for the conservation of the tiger…
* * * * *
February 16, 1999, Tuesday, sunny, 11-26C
[11:01 in the middle of nowhere]
I’m now sitting on the uphill side of the highway about 10 km north of Balaghat part way along the 6-hour drive between Nagpur and Kanha. The car has died. The engine has been misfiring over the last 50 km or so, and finally, now that the terrain is more winding and hilly, the car just couldn’t make it. It is in the middle of nowhere. It being a mountainous region, there as neither a house nor a living soul in sight, just forest all the way to the horizon, and a lake some distance on the downhill side of the winding highway.
We checked the distributor contact points, the spark plug wires, and they seemed okay. Lots of gas in the tank. So it could be a bad or fouled spark plug or a faulty distributor or a congested fuel line, or a weak battery or whatever else. But the driver didn’t have even a screwdriver on board. We decided that he should go back to Balaghat to fetch a mechanic, while I stay with the car, given all my equipment in it. He flagged down a truck and off he went.
I got out of the car, and took my laptop computer and camera bags with me, as well as the distributor cable. I have no idea what the highway security situation is like around here. I also have US$800’s worth of traveler’s cheques and rupees on me. I climbed up the steep wooded embankment on the uphill side of the highway by about 100 feet, to where a bamboo thicket on the edge of a ledge screened me from view of anyone on the highway below. From where I’m sitting, I can monitor the car and the road without being seen if I don’t want to be, and can also enjoy the view of the lake in the distance submerged in a sea of trees. Vehicles, mostly trucks and buses, pass one every few minutes; no one slowed or stopped.
My eyes are pleased by the sea of green, but my mind wonders what lies beneath, whether the forest floor has been over run by goats and cattle, and whether the animals have been decimated by hunting and trapping. Many of the so-called inter-park “corridors” for tigers to cross-migrate for genetic exchange purposes are in fact barriers through which tigers cannot pass.
I recall an almost comical incident on the road earlier this morning. While passing through Balaghat, we stopped for a Pepsi - the most popular soft drink in this part of India, the safest beverage available disease-wise. Of course I was at once surrounded five deep by locals, gawking at me. Being used to this, I just opened the pop and nonchalantly began sipping it. While doing so, I looked for a waste bin to deposit the bottle cap into it. Of course there was none in sight. Seeing my intention, one of the people held out his hand helpfully. I gave him the cap, expecting him to take it to a bin I didn’t see. Instead, he just dropped the cap on the ground at his feet.
I’m supposed to get to Kanha about noon. If Jane and CJ and Faiyaz are, as CJ wrote in his email, “anxiously awaiting my return”, their anxiety may get to the boiling point before I make my grand reentrance.
While waiting, pain and fury and despair again materialized out of thin air. With predetermined determination, I fell on my knees and said a wholehearted prayer for Christopher, then decidedly turned to contemplating what has captured my attention – conceiving the ‘inconceivable.’
“Raminothna, are you there?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Please tell more about this ‘omniscientific cosmology’.”
“Certainly. What would you like to know?”
“Just something in general.”
“Sure. Tell me. What is this object on the ground here?”
“This? It is a distributor cable.”
“What is it doing here?”
“Well, I don’t want a few thugs wandering over, fixing up the car and driving off with it. Without this cable, the engine wouldn’t start.”
“What is a distributor cable? What does it do?”
“It is for conducting electricity from the alternator and the battery to the distributor.”
“Can you understand the distributor cable without understanding the distributor, the alternator, the battery and the engine?”
“No, at least not fully.”
“Can you understand the distributor cable without understanding the car and the part it plays in the functioning of the car?
“No, I cannot.”
“Because the part cannot be fully understood without an understanding of the whole and its part in this whole.”
“And what is this?”
“It’s a tree.”
“And what’s that?”
“That’s a bird.”
“It’s a bee.”
“It’s a bee’s nest.”
“This tree, this bird, this bee and this bee’s nest…, are they wholes unto themselves or are they parts of something greater?”
“Well, they cannot exist without anything else. So they are parts of something greater.”
“What is this something greater?”
“The, uh, biosphere.”
“Of which you too are a part?”
“Yes, of which I too am a part.”
“And the biosphere. Is it a whole unto itself or is it a part of something greater?”
“It is a part of something greater – the planet Earth.”
“And the planet Earth. Is it a whole unto itself or is it a part of something greater?”
“I see where you’re going. The planet Earth is a part of the Solar System, which is a part of the Milky Way Galaxy, which is a part of the Cosmos. So, the tree, the bird, the bee, the bee hive, and I, are not wholes unto ourselves, but are ultimately parts of the Cosmos.”
“So, can you understand yourself fully without understanding the Cosmos and your part in this Cosmos?”
“No. I don’t suppose I can.”
“What is the field that studies the Universe – the Cosmos as a whole?”
“What fields of science are involved in cosmology as you know it?”
“Physics and astronomy. Some chemistry. And the hybrids, such as astrophysics.”
“And that’s it?”
“That’s about it.”
“What scientific field studies trees and birds and bees, and mammals such as you?”
“And what field studies bee hives and ant nests and termite mounds and lion prides and chimpanzee troops and the like?”
“It is a relatively new field, called sociobiology.”
“And what field studies human societies?”
“Sociology and anthropology.”
“And these fields are not included in cosmology as you know it?”
“Well, according to our line of reasoning, they should be, but they’re not.”
“So, what do you say about cosmology as it is?”
“Omniscientific Cosmology, therefore, is a new model of the Universe that involves the socio-biological sciences as well as the conventional astro-physical sciences in its construction. The reason is that the biosphere to which all life on Earth belongs is a part of the Earth which is a part of the Solar System which is a part of the Milky Way Galaxy which is a part of the Universe. Since the part cannot be fully understood without an understanding of the whole and its part in this whole, neither can humanity fully understand itself without an understanding of the Universe and its part in this Universe. Thus, omniscientific cosmology is essential for human self-understanding. Omniscientific cosmology yields new insights for answering the ancient philosophical questions, such as the purpose of humanity, the meaning of life, the measure of morality, the fate of the Earth, the nature of the Tao, even the definition of ‘God’.”
[12:31 @ same spot]
It’s been 1.5 hours – 90 minutes. Where is the guy? Balaghat is only 10 km away. Is he having a samosa or chai or a siesta?
There is a bag of walnuts in the car. I went to retrieve it. Back up here, I began to crack open the walnuts with a rock. A different kind of lunch. It must be the 13th walnut, since I over-exerted myself and smashed the unfortunate walnut to smithereens. I was about to reach for number 14 when Raminothna said, “In the name of compassion please derive nourishment from this shattered being. Enjoy every smallest fragment of it. Can’t you see that it died for you?”
Never have I enjoyed a walnut as thoroughly as I did number 13, the lucky walnut.
Where the hell is that guy?
[13:13 @ same spot]
Finally, the driver showed up, by bus, in the company of two mechanics. I snapped a photo of them before going down to join them. They’ve been at it for about 10 minutes. No luck. At one point, one of the mechanics got underneath the car, got a mouthful of gasoline from the fuel line (!), and spat it into the carburetor. The engine started immediately, but died again after a few chugs. They’re still working on it. Right now, looks like they’re trying to clean the fuel line. After that, what? Indian ingenuity at work. Fascinating, as Spock would say, from an outsider’s point of view.
“Raminothna, it looks to me that this new ‘omniscientific cosmology’ is on a collision course with the old religions, philosophies, conventions and traditions, especially those that originated before the advent of modern science.”
“Yes, it is.”
“But this would be like pitting an egg against a rock.”
“Yes it would.”
“So it is doomed to be crushed?”
“That’s news to me.”
“On the contrary, the egg can crush the rock.”
“By its becoming a child, one able to use a hammer; better yet, also a chisel.”
[14:28 @ a place a few km north of “same spot”]
Well, the Indian ingenuity worked for a little while. They took out the fuel filter and blew in reverse, presumably clearing the fuel-line and/or the filter of whatever blocking it. The car started fine after that. The mechanic decided to catch a ride to Kanha. The younger guy would take a bus back to Balaghat. Before we took off I pulled a Rs.100 note out of my pocket and offered it to him. He declined at first, but after looking at his friend, who nodded, he accepted it. And off we went.
I began to doze off, and was awakened when the car pulled off the road again. Same symptom reappeared. A thick cloud of acid fumes erupted from the engine compartment. The mechanic opened the hood, and found the battery spewing acid froth on an end cell. He waited for the fumes to clear, then removed the battery and set it on the ground. He plunged a hole on the top of the defective cell of the battery with a screwdriver and is now doing something with it. I think the end cell of the battery fried and he is using an electric cable to connect the power cable directly to the plate of the second cell, thus making the voltage of the battery 10 volts instead of 12 volts. I doubt this could start the engine, but if we push-start the car, the lessened battery should be able to keep the sparkplugs firing. Indian ingenuity at work again. And again, let’s see how many more miles (feet) he could make this clunker go.
[23:02 @ Rm. 112, Kanha Tiger Lodge]
Home sweet home! At last, around 15:30, I arrived at Kanha – a 9.5 hour journey rather than the standard 6. Indeed this place feels like home to me, in absolute terms, and especially relative to Delhi, starting with a warm, hugging welcome by Jane, Faiyaz and CJ. The four of us pretty well spent every minute of the remains of the day together. I feel as if we are spiritually one. I wish things would never change. But CJ will be leaving on the 25th for Bangkok for a jaunt, then Taipei for two months, and then, in August, Vancouver. Avtar has plans that Jane and I should go to Bandhavgarh on or around March 1, but, though I love Bandhavgarh deeply, and indeed, the Champions of the Wild video was filmed in Bandhavgarh and not Kanha, I want to stay at Kanha as long as possible to maximize our outreach in the Buffer Zone. And so does Jane. And so does Faiyaz. If Jane goes to Bandhavgarh, Kim would not be interested in our work here at Kanha, and CJ will be gone. So, I will tell Avtar that I will stay here at Kanha till at least mid-March, and so will Jane.
Jane and Faiyaz told me that they have big plans for Kanha as the centre of tiger conservation, in the following terms:
•family planning as integral part of medical clinic;
•techno-transformation - solar cookers for rural, LPG (liquid petroleum gas) for suburban, to alleviate deforestation;
•cattle husbandry, to reduce population and overgrazing;
•cottage industry, to have the villagers rely more on talent than on natural resources.
“I don’t know how many times we have said, ‘Let’s wait and see what Anthony thinks,’” said Jane.
Jane loves the Atlas I brought, and laughed out loud at the “Hindi Made Easy” booklet, which I chose from a humorous angle. It was published earlier this century. In it is a section titled “Directions to Servants”, where the orders include: [Bring my clothes. Fetch that thing. Don’t bother. Speak loudly. That will do. You may go now. Get out of the house. Carry out my orders. Stand still. Come near me. Do your own work. Bring it at once. You are very lazy. Never tell a lie. Never steal anything. Bear this in mind. Dress me. Undress me. Bring my trousers. Where are my socks? Take off my boots and bring my slippers. This is not properly washed. Take this back and have it washed again. I will not pay you until the missing articles are returned. Bring my whip…]
Jane has taken on the role of principal teacher of the free school in Deepfee’s absence, and a very popular one at that. Faiyaz and I both joined in the teaching today, doing mostly arithmetic (addition). On the side, I taught some kids to play tic-tac-toe, and they thought it was the greatest game in the world.
The large solar oven and solar cooker have not yet been built, due to unavailability of quality steel plates, until yesterday, when Faiyaz finally procured a 4’X12’ highly reflective steel sheet – in a roll. So, the next 3-4 days we’ll work on building and testing the two large models, except tomorrow morning at 09:30, when Faiyaz, Jane and I will go to town to view a quality breeding bull worth Rs.2200 (C$80). Faiyaz says he has already come to an agreement with Chichrunpur to give them the bull on the condition that all extant low quality bulls be neutered. The new bull will be free range grazed by day and stall fed in the evening, and he will impregnate the cows in the fields at will. After a year, he will be moved to another village and replaced by another bull from another village. This way, inbreeding is prevented.
Finally, I met the two very lovely Indian couples from Calcutta, who asked to see the Champions of the Wild video upon hearing about it, and came back to the fire pit to join us bubbling with enthusiasm and questions after seeing it. One of the ladies brought out her camera and took a number of pictures with me. I gave them a copy of tiger literature with WCWC’s address, phone, fax and e-mail on it. They volunteered to link the Delhi Tiger Clubs with the Calcutta schools’ environment clubs, and both with Canadian school student groups.
Very exciting prospects in the offing.
Good night, Christopher. Good night, Christopher.
1999-02-16-2 Delhi Times, The Times of India, national
[He is no ordinary tiger]
They sit inside it and discuss its decimation from the face of the planet. It’s 50-foot long and 12-foot high and is made of parachute material that can inflate. Striped bright yellow and black, this tiger was (brought to India) by WCWC for a Save-the-Tiger campaign to generate awareness on tiger conservation amongst school children…
1999-02 Travel Talk magazine, India TT Bureau
[Save the Tiger campaign]
… “A conscious effort has to be made to make the villagers aware of the hazards of deforestation, overgrazing and poaching, and their consequences on the whole ecological balance,” said Marr.
His Save-the-Tiger campaign has introduced new eco-friendly techniques for resource conservation, like solar cooking devices and biogas to wean the villagers from their dependence on wood-fuel…
Marr also feels that the entry fee to the Indian wildlife sanctuaries should be raised manifold to benefit the locals of the area and also to maintain the reserves…
* * * * *
February 17, 1999, Wednesday, sunny, 7-24C
[18:08 @ Rm. 112, Kanha Tiger Lodge]
A productive day.
I woke up from a dream around 04:30 last night, got up, wrote down the dream, then went back to sleep around 05:30, and was awakened by a knock on my door for breakfast. I looked at my clock, and it was 08:45 – late by two hours for me.
The two Indian couples as well as CJ have left by then. Only CJ will be back, who went with the Indian couples to Gondia to buy his train ticket to Delhi.
I had a hurried breakfast with Faiyaz. Jane had already eaten, but she sat with us. We then jumped into the Gypsy and headed for Baihar.
Our first stop was the office of Mr. Jharia, Assistant Forest Conservator, where we discussed our purchasing with Rs2200 a young (14 months old) hybrid bull (half Hiana) to give to Chichrunpur. Hybrid because a pure bred bull from elsewhere would not do well in the local environment. We exchanged many questions and answers regarding what’s already been done by Faiyaz and what we plan to do. According to Jharia, Chichrunpur has already accepted the idea of neutering all its own bulls, which are of average quality by local standards, which is to say very low, if this new high quality bull is given to them. According to Jharia, several other villages have shown similar interest. The program is to have the village bulls neutered first by the villagers themselves using their traditional methods (how?), followed by a vet check to verify the fact, and if things check out fine, then the new bull will be introduced to the village by walking it there. The ultimate objective of this scheme is to bring up the quality (e.g., milk productivity) of the cattle and reduce their quantity, so that the grasslands and forests may rebound. Initially, the new bull is to be free-range grazed with the cows in the daytime, and stall-fed with grain at night. The breeding of the cows will be done by the bull on its own accord – as is the custom of the villages I have come across in the Buffer Zone - who may also breed the cows of neighbouring villages he will encounter in the normal course of free-ranging-grazing. After a couple of years, he would be rotated to a non-neighbouring village to prevent inbreeding, and a new bull will be rotated to Chichrunpur to take his place. This is the first step. The second step will be to limit the number of offspring per new bull. And the third step will be to reduce or eliminate free range grazing by factoring in corral feeding. The feed will be imported from outside of the Buffer Zone. Thus, the Core Area will hopefully be spared, and even the Buffer Zone may be ecologically revitalized. This scheme is particularly important for the Core/Buffer boundary villages like Chichrunpur.
After our meeting, Jharia took us to a veterinary hospital to meet the head vet, who then took us to see the bull which currently belongs to a private owner nearby. The average milk yield of a local cow is about 2 litres a day. This young bull’s mother is supposed to yield 15 litres. Being only 14 months old, he is not impressive to look at, but according to the vet, he will mature into a magnificent animal. They say, however, that he is ready to perform his intended duty. I named it Bullet on the spot, much to Jane’s amusement.
After the bull viewing, we went to the town square to shop for material with which to build the solar mirror cooker – wooden boards to make the stand for the mirror, nails, metal cutter to cut the steel sheet, bamboo poles and ropes to make two tripods and a horizontal beam for suspension of the hot plate and grill, coarse mesh wire grill to put pots on, etc., and eventually hired a carpenter who came back with us to the lodge to make the wooden base, which has now been made. The steel sheet is highly reflective alright, but it is somewhat rippled when unfurled, which means it’s going to scatter off some 30% (I estimate) of the incident solar heat. Tomorrow near noon, we’ll test the device.
During my time in Delhi and Jaipur, as well as here at Kanha, I have come across information which either just fell into my lap by accident, or was thrust into my hands unbidden, or was sought and found. Some are hearsay, and others were first hand observations. This information range from mildly interesting to surprising to downright staggering. Following are a few of these items:
•First hand experience: I had always assumed that Deepfee was the main, full time teacher at the free school, until last night when I found out that she does so only sporadically. She was, however, always the one seen whenever I was there - thus my previous misconception. The real full time teacher at the free school is in fact Faiyaz.
•First hand experience: I asked three impartial people to do a cost estimate of the CIDA-funded Tiger Fund program in 1997 without telling them the funding amount or even telling them about the program. Their estimates were fairly consistent, ranging from a low of C$8,000 to a high of C$12,000. The actual amount sent to TF from CIDA via WCWC was C$45,000 (60% of that year’s project grant of C$75,000). And Tiger Fund did not even fulfill a major part of that year’s program, including the production of a Hindi-language tiger conservation comic book.
•Hearsay: In 1998, about the time when TF was requested by CIDA to submit receipts, a tour operator observed that Sarwan, the Magnificent Tours accountant, was repeatedly told by Avtar to assign Magnificent Tours expenses, unpaid bills and receipts to Tiger Fund.
•First hand experience: Perhaps a coincidence. While I was in Delhi, Avtar asked me more than once when the CIDA grant money was coming through. He even called Paul George (WCWC head in Vancouver) directly about it. The first installment of C$15,000 came through about a week ago. Within a day or two, Avtar paid for the new Gypsy, whose price was about C$15,000. When I asked him, he told me that the new Gypsy was primarily for Tiger Fund to use, but either he did not tell Raman and Manohar about this, or he told them the opposite, because they both independently said that it was first and foremost a Magnificent Tours tourist vehicle. When I was talking about using it for Tiger Fund outreach, Raman, who overheard the conversation, interjected, “The use of the Gypsy is not listed in the agreement of the CIDA grant.” To which I replied, “This will soon change.”
•Hearsay: On the other hand, Raman and Manohar have been heard to independently remark that CIDA money was not used fully towards tiger conservation and that CIDA/WCWC were not getting their money’s worth from TF.
•Hearsay: A reliable source informed me that the lodge uses poached wood, which is cheaper than legal wood, to build and cook with, or to burn at the tourist fire pit. It is bought directly from wood poachers. This is done according to directives from “the management above Manohar”.
•First hand experience: Several people, including Jharia and Manohar, have warned Faiyaz, and even tangentially me, to not get close to any of the village women, and be always accompanied by a witness whenever going to a village. This is because our visits are not always welcomed by all concerned. It is always possible that someone would consider using false accusations such as rape to discredit us.
•First hand experience: When Faiyaz proposes certain things, Avtar generally refuses, but when I propose the very same things, he would often go along, at least lip-service-wise. This means to me that giving me preferential treatment was not for the true cause, but for my giving WCWC, and thus CIDA, a good report on TF. I think Avtar knows how I feel from one or two sources, and is doing a few things on the surface to appease me. But the bare bone fact is that he has yet to release the first rupee’s worth of the grant money to the Tiger Fund field team since my arrival in India this year, in spite of our repeated requests.
•Hearsay and first hand experience: Not much happened re. TF activities in my two-week absence from Kanha, but not for want of desire on the part of Faiyaz and Jane. First, there was heavy tourist influx and both were put to work in that arena, and second, I was told that whatever they wanted to do unrelated to the tourist business was categorically denied by Manohar. He did not release a single rupee to Faiyaz. All these of course were under order from “the management above Manohar”. Both Jane and Faiyaz are concerned that whereas TF outreach work will plow on regardless while I’m here, it will grind to an abrupt halt as soon as I have left.
Closer to matters at hand, CJ still hasn’t returned to the lodge. He was supposed to be back by 20:00. We decided that if CJ still hadn’t come back by 23:00, we’d go to Baihar to check on the home of the owner of the Tata Sumo.
Anyway, while we wait, here is the dream I recorded in the middle of the night.
It would be strange enough to dream of being a lion or an eagle, but of everything on Earth, I dreamed of being an amoeba living in the pond beside which I was sleeping.
“I”, the amoeba, had climbed up the stem of a bulrush, what in amoebal language was known as a “Stairway to Heaven”, for what lay beyond our lake universe was what Heaven was to us. I was pushing as hard as I could to penetrate the water/air barrier, in vain. I seemed to have been doing that for ages, eons. Finally, in total dispiritedness and exhaustion, I was about to let go and let myself fall back to my bottom-feeding, amoeba-eat-amoeba existence, when suddenly, I heard, “Why are you doing this, my friend?”
I looked around and encountered a spherical being attached to the Stairway. “Who are you?” I asked.
“My name is Raminothna. I can be many things, but right now, I'm the egg of a dragonfly. And you?”
“I am an amoeba.”
“What were you doing?”
“I was trying to get into Heaven.”
“I'm tired of my mundane existence. I want to transcend to a higher realm.”
“I can appreciate the sentiment, but I’m afraid you are going about it the wrong way.”
“Oh yeah? Well, if you know the right way, why are you still stuck in here?” And I couldn't help but add, “At least I have some freedom of movement, unlike you.”
“I will be out of this pond before the next full moon,” declared the dragonfly egg happily.
"So, how do you do it?"
“Tell me. How do you reproduce?”
“That’s a bit personal, isn’t it?”
“You did ask.”
“Okay, I reproduce by binary fission, where one becomes two, two become four, four become eight, eight become sixteen, and so on. How about you?”
“So, what is the difference?”
“Now tell me. Are your descendants detached or attached to each other?”
“Detached. We are free moving entities,” I said proudly.
“Are they differentiated or identical?”
“They are identical, “
“And their behavior? Is it mutually competitive or cooperative?”
“Mutually competitive. Fighting over the same old bacteria for food, if you must know. And what about yours? Are they detached or attached?”
“They are attached to each other.”
“Do they have freedom of individual movement?”
“No, they do not.”
“Then I don’t see how you can teach me anything.”
“Here is how. My descendents will be differentiated in relation to each other, both structurally and behaviorally. And though they will be stuck fast to each other, they will have a much higher degree of collective freedom.”
“You got me lost somewhere.”
“You see, while some of my descendents will become eyes so all can see, others will become legs so all can walk with immense strides, and some will produce protective armor so all can live in the rarified atmosphere of ‘Heaven’, and still others will become wings so all can fly in the heavenly winds, clear over the mountain, and the mountains beyond.”
“All the way to the moon, no doubt?” I said sarcastically.
“Unfortunately not. Only human beings are capable of doing that.”
“Human beings? They must be tremendous flyers then?”
“Strangely, the individual human being can’t even fly.”
“You lost me again.”
“Quite simple, really. Like you amoebae, all dragonflies of the same species are virtually identical and mutually competitive. On the other hand, like dragonfly cells, human beings are differentiated in relation to each other to fill various social roles and form the various social organs. Thus, they can form still higher societies which have yet far greater capabilities.”
“I think I understand. Anyway, back to my original question. How do I get out of here?”
“If you take the right evolutionary path, your descendents may become something more akin to a human being than a mere dragonfly.”
“With due respect to the amazing dragonfly, I think I'd rather be the even more amazing human being. So, how many moons will it take?”
“Three billion years, if you start now, that is, if you succeed.”
As the amoeba began its long integrative transcendence, and at long last became me, I opened my eyes, and saw that the full moon had moved far to the west. But already, I found myself looked far beyond it, all the way to the stars.
“Take this dream also as a session in perceptual pliancy, where the small can be seen as huge, and the large as microscopic,” said Raminothna. “Now stand, Homo Sapiens.”
I stood. Still on the level of awareness of the amoeba, I looked out my eyes from the perspective of one of my brain cells. It would feel much like what I would feel when looking out through the eyes of a statue a hundred times taller than Liberty. And when Super-Liberty started walking I could feel the wind whistling past his ears. I have never thought of myself as a tall man, until now. Viewing oneself this way, it is difficult not to walk with dignity.
Even now, I’m haunted by the amoeba dream, in which context even the humblest human being, even a beggar on skid road, is a towering and majestic civilization trillions of citizens strong. To touch the sky, all one has to do is stand, and raise ones hands in affirmation to the Transcendent Integration of life. This explains how I came to perceive the Raminothna tree as being sky high. Seeing oneself in this light, one cannot help but experience the dignity of walking tall.
“You are now beginning to develop suppleness of perception, where the small is seen as large, and the large as small. This perceptual flexibility is a basic requirement for the attainment of cosmic consciousness,” said Raminothna.
With this new way of perception comes a new way of thought. For the first time in my search for the illusive Tao, I feel I have finally stumbled on to something new.
“So, my body, besides being a multicellular organism, as we all know, is also a society of my sixty trillion body cells?”
“You might even say: your sixty trillion social unicellular organisms,” Raminothna said.
“Excuse me, Raminothna. There is nothing as a social unicellular organism,” I corrected her. “An amoeba is a unicellular organism, but it is not social. Neither is a bacterium, nor a diatom. All of the unicellular organisms I can think of are nonsocial.”
“Except those that are social, of course.”
“Social unicellular organisms? Such as?”
“Your body cells.”
“I know that’s what you meant, but my body cells are body cells. They are not bona fide organisms, strictly speaking.”
“But they are, strictly speaking.”
“Then you’d better explain.”
“Let me ask you. Is the amoeba a bona fide unicellular organism?”
“Of course, it is.”
“Is it, as a unicellular organism, social or nonsocial?”
“It is nonsocial.”
“Is the dragonfly a bona fide multicellular organism?
“Yes, it is.”
“Is it, as a multicellular organism, social or nonsocial?”
“It is nonsocial.”
“Is an ant a bona fide multicellular organism?”
“Yes, it is.”
“As a multicellular organism is it social or nonsocial?”
“It is social.”
“And what about you? Is a human being a bona fide multicellular organism?”
“Of course I am.”
“Are you, as a multicellular organism, social or nonsocial?”
“I am social.”
“Does your sociality, or that of the ant, make you any less of a bona fide organism?”
“No, it does not.”
“By the same token, should the sociality of a body cells make them any less of a bona fide organism?”
“Uh, no. I guess not. So, I now agree. A body cell can be said to be a social unicellular organism.”
“Q.E.D.,” said Raminothna.
Definitions aside, to know that I am a civilization of highly social cells somehow makes me feel a little more… civilized.
We did go to Baihar, with me at the wheel. The night air was cool, especially with the top down as always. The stars were brilliant through the leaves of the trees partly shading the road. When we got to the Sumo owner’s home, we interrupted the house lady’s sleep, who did not seem overly concerned that the Sumo still hadn’t returned. We drove a little farther to the bus stop, and saw that the bus which was to take Surinder to catch a train to Delhi (for him to co-drive the new Gypsy back to Kanha with Manohar) was still sitting there. We spotted Surinder at a window and I pulled the Gypsy alongside the bus. Faiyaz talked to Surinder who told him that the white Tata Sumo had just passed when we were talking to the sleepy house lady. We headed back to the lodge. Shortly before we arrived, we met the Sumo coming back from the lodge, with which we exchanged a greeting with both vehicles stopped door to door right in the middle of the deserted highway.
We had a great time on the moonlight drive, both ways, filling the night with our uninhibited songs. I thought these scenes unfold mostly on the movie screen. We probably woke up every sleeping creature we passed, and didn’t even have a single drop to drink. There is no alcohol, but there is spirit.
Back at the lodge, we chatted a bit with CJ, then, 1 a.m. rolled around, and here I am.
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
February 18, 1999, Thursday, sunny, 10-27C, 100% humidity
[06:44 @ Rm.112, Kanha Tiger Lodge]
I have been missing you on and off all day, as in everyday, but in a somewhat different frame of perception.
As I have mentioned before, and I feel impelled to mention again, since the dream in the amoeba’s microcosm, I’ve been having this strange feeling of being very tall – not six feet tall, or seven feet tall, or even eight feet tall, but miles tall. Initially, when I first stood up and looked down at the ground in front of my feet, I even had a moment of vertigo. When I walk, and run, I feel high altitude winds whistling past my ears. This is a physical feeling, but the spiritual interpretation is a sense of dignity. There is no possibility, while feeling this way, to stoop down below a certain moral and ethical threshold. This was the way I felt when I got out of bed this morning. This is the way I am feeling now, though less dazed by it.
How could this be? Finally, I made some sense of it. The dream or vision made such a deep impression that my perception is still on the cellular level of perception, where space becomes enormously expended, where my room looks cavernous, where the book shelf looks miles tall and miles distant.
Another effect is that it makes objects look extra brilliant. Since the book shelf looks miles away, the mind would automatically factor in some hazing of the air in between, but since there is no haze between me and the book shelf, it looks as if glowing with an inner light – something I noted while lying under the Raminothna tree.
It also has the effect of value. The books on the shelf - they too look miles tall and exceedingly stately. One would instantly associate them with literary masterpieces. It seems inconceivable that such monumental edifices would contain something as trite as a harlequin romance. Seeing myself in this light, I’m made to feel a deep sense of self-worth.
I wonder if I could control my level of perception at any given time.
“With experimentation and practice, you will achieve at-will perceptual pliancy,” said Raminothna.
“That is nice to know. It would be quite a magical power of perceptual to have.”
“And you have only experienced a half of it.”
“The seeing-small-as-large half.”
“And the other half is seeing-large-as-small then?”
“How do I see that?”
“You will see when you see it.”
“And what is the practical use of this capability?”
“Ultimately, it could enable you to see ‘God’.”
[23:13 @ Rm.112, Kanha Tiger Lodge]
I can’t believe that I wrote what I wrote this morning. It must seem outlandish to anyone who happens to read it. Some time in the course of the morning I somehow returned from the cellular level of perception to my normal metazoan’s (multicellular organism’s) level of perception. The bookshelf has returned to being only a few feet tall, and so have I, though the sense of value and dignity remains.
Well, the first test for this sense of dignity is at hand. The experiment with the parabolic mirror solar cooker cannot be said to be an unmitigated success. Due to the slightly rippled surface of the steel sheet and the straight longitudinal section, the solar rays were not sharply focused at a point but diffusedly focused along a strip, and the hot plate was simply not hot enough. It could slow-fry an egg, and could heat water to about 150F, but that’s about it. Not much improvement can be made with the existing set up except shielding it from the wind and perhaps using a long and thicker black metal plate. As is, it can be used to dry things, to warm water, slow-cook certain items, things like that. So, time to look for a better reflective surface.
In the evening, three park guides came to visit, as invited by Faiyaz, two of whom I have had on safaris before, the youngest being currently enrolled in a correspondence university program, final year. We (Faiyaz, Jane, CJ, I and they) discussed:
giving them weekly or twice weekly English lessons
raising the park gate fee to benefit park and the villages. The current wage of the park guides is Rs65 (C$2.50) per safari (morning or afternoon) or the same amount per day doing various park chores in the off-season. Raising the park fee could certainly increase their salary.
giving them a photographic workshop.
They are excited about all three ideas. We invited them back tomorrow evening for the Champions of the Wild video and further discussions. They will ask a few more people to come.
Tomorrow is medical clinic day. As of 14:00, Faiyaz and Jane will be free. We will sit down and form a final plan as to what will be done over the next month. I have in mind to do the following:
•visit villages and panchayats (multi-village councils)
•take villagers into the park
•visit village schools
•invite village leaders to visit the Tiger Fund conservation centre and give them video and slide shows, hold discussion sessions and demonstrate the solar devices, etc.
•establish a village and panchayat network
•work at raising park gate fee from the current Rs100 to Rs1000 for foreign tourists and from the current Rs10 to Rs100 for Indian tourists
•video/slide shows to tourists
•weekly training program for park guides and guards
Having checked out India to the extent I have been able to thus far, I believe that the greatest asset of the country is its low labor cost for high quality service (e.g. Faiyaz and the park guide on the university correspondence program). A plan that does not make maximum use of this resource is ill-conceived and foolish. For Tiger Fund to have an annual budget of C$60,000 from Canada plus whatever is in its own coffer, to not even have a full-time field worker is downright asinine, though I suspect the right word is more like ‘corrupt’. The best use of the CIDA grant money in India is to put it into building a large team or several teams of well educated, talented and dedicated local workers to maximize result per unit time, since the tiger hardly has any time left for us to squander and waste. At an average monthly wage of Rs3000 (C$120) we can hire 10 people for 12 months with Rs360,000 (C$14,400 – less than a quarter of the CIDA/TF budget), half of whom with university education. Of course there would be other expenses such as lodging and transportation costs. Just think what WCWC can do with such a team in Canada, at the cost of half a single person’s wage! With such a team in India, and with systematic and ambitious planning, we can easily accomplish 100 fold with the CIDA grant than what is on Avtar’s table, instead of allowing the grant to slide under it.
The vision of a 10-person tiger saving team is the best thus far given our budget, and will or at least should form the core of future operations in India. This will entail a very different plan from the one or type Avtar has so far unilaterally designed. Also, even if Tiger Fund is to be retained as partner (practically speaking, contractor), it must be a sovereign NGO not subservient to any associated commercial interest as Tiger Fund is subservient to Magnificent Tours, with a full time dedicated leader heading a dedicated team, which Tiger Fund currently is entirely without.
Again having trouble sleeping. Again overwhelmed by anger and grief. Again clutching at straws.
One of the tourists left the science fiction Dune and its sequel Dune Messiah in the magazine rack near the bar in the dining pavilion. Attempting to evade my anger and grief, I tried to escape into Dune, but I didn’t get too far. Instead, I found myself asking Raminothna yet again, “Just what are you? Come on, Raminothna, just tell me this one thing. Where are you from?”
As usual, in response to such questions, she was evasive, at least initially. This time her answer was, “The Cosmos.”
“What planet exactly?”
“I’m bound by no planet.”
“Alright, how about this then: By what means did you come to this planet?”
“There are at least four general means for visiting a planet, by at least one of which have I come.”
“The first and most obvious is of course technology, involving space ships, creative genetics, robotics, artificial high-intelligence, and such currently fictional devices as time machines, hyperspace-craft, teleportation and their like, of whose possibilities could exceed even imagination, but which are often regarded as impossibilities by the technologically less advanced.
“The second, in certain circumstances a special case of the first, and in certain imagined forms indeed impossible, is telepathy – close encounters of the fourth kind, as it were, where the visitor experiences the planet through a chosen native creature, by seeing through its eyes, walking on its feet, feeling through its heart, thinking through its mind, and working through hands – or whatever other manipulative appendages it may possess.
“The third, at times indistinguishable from the first and second, and always possible, is imagination – that of a certain highly imaginative native creature, that is, who imagines such fourth-kind encounters with such vividness as to lend credence, in its own mind at least, to the real existence of such visitors as myself.
“And finally, the fourth but by far the most common and perhaps the best means of all for visiting a planet is birth – to be born as a native creature of the planet, naturally, to visit the planet for one lifetime.
“Regardless of means, therefore, for the duration of a beamed landing, or a telepathic communion, or a day dream, or a lifetime, as pauper or prince or dragonfly, for good or evil, to give or to take, in war or peace…, we are all fellow visitors of a certain planet at a certain time, for a certain purpose. And therefore, we all share our question in common: What am I here for?
“Some come as tourists, others as naturalists. Some come as destroyers, others as saviors. Some come to propagate and perpetuate lies, others to seek and speak truth. Some come to experience the flesh, others to purify the soul. Some come to learn, some to teach and some to merely sleep. While some come to Earth to read and re-read Dune, others come back from their Dune Messiah fantasies to save and deliver Earth. And while some come all this way to find Earth filled with cruelty, injustice, hypocrisy and pain, others, who feel fortunate and called upon in spite of all, hold that for every visit, regardless of circumstances, there is a joyful and meaningful purpose, or an array of joyful and meaningful purposes, from which the visitor may choose one, or more, or, alas, less. Even for those who see their sojourn on Earth as agonizing, pointless and futile, they still have the purpose to leave and start a better life.
“There are numerous means by which one can leave a planet, amongst which one of the easiest and least irreversible is to escape back into Dune. Conversely, to die. But for those who can stand its sheer intensity and unrelenting realism, most of all, its uncompromising truth, there is nothing on Earth to compare with Earth.
“My dear fellow Earth visitor, I wish you purposeful living, and joyful deliverance.”
And on this positive note, I will bid you good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
February 19, 1999, Friday, sunny, 11-27C
[16:38 @ rm.112, Kanha Tiger Lodge]
One full month in India, and we finally hatched an optimal plan. In the late afternoon, we (Jane, Faiyaz, CJ and I) were brainstorming around the unlit fire pit when the plan suddenly congealed itself in my mind. We will invite all the panchayats in the Buffer Zone for a Buffer-Zone-wide conference at the Tiger Lodge. A panchayat (“pan-CHAI-yat”) is a multi-village council. There are 45 panchayats in the Buffer Zone, averaging 4 villages per panchayat. We’ll show them the Champions of the Wild video, give them the slideshow, demonstrate the solar devices and have a strategizing and organizing meeting. Faiyaz will organize it with the help of Tirath, a park guide who is also a Gond tribal, who can drive. The lodge will be without tourists March 1-4 and 8-12. We’ll choose one of these days.
[22:34] Just finished the meeting with three park guides, including the handsome and regal Tirath (even though he is in rags and sandals, or is perhaps even an ‘Untouchable’ - this I don’t know). They arrived around 19:30. First we showed them the Champions of the Wild video. Then we had a discussion in the dinner pavilion. One of their questions was the idea held by many villagers in the buffer zone that the park will expand into the buffer zone and they will be displaced farther into what they consider the boonies. I asked their opinion on the idea of the conference. They talked among themselves at length, and surprised me when Faiyaz interpreted that not only did they like the idea, they even offered to help us organize it. In order to reach all the panchayats, they would need about three days with Faiyaz, since they do have 1,000 sq. km. of Buffer Zone to cover, half of which being on the other side of the Core Area. They also opined that March 1-4 is not good because of the “Holi” (flower) festival when many villagers will be drunk, belligerent or even hostile. We chose March 11 as the date, and agreed that it is imperative to invite the government officials in the region. So, without further ado, Faiyaz and Tirath will get started first thing tomorrow morning to commence networking with the panchayats. First thing on the agenda is to issue invitations to the officials to show our respect, and also to obtain their permission for us to traverse through the Core Area, parts of which being inaccessible to the public, to access the Buffer Zone on other side. So, all of us will go into the park 06:30 tomorrow morning.
I will also invite media and perhaps also people from the Centre of Science for Villagers (CSV) in a town a couple of hundred km away to attend this “Kanha Buffer Zone Panchayat Conference”.
This, we all agree, is the most effective way to reach the most number of villages in the shortest time.
We went to Baihar to call Avtar to discuss the plan with him, but he was again unavailable. There is no promise I can reach him tomorrow or the day after or the day after that. Meanwhile, I can sit and wait, or go and act. Guess which option I’m taking.
I feel charged. I’m chomping on the bit. No wet blanket from New Delhi is going to put a damper on me.
Too excited to sleep. A state I used to love, when I would sit up writing all night, my mind in flight on pure inspiration. Now, whenever I cannot sleep, pain would come flooding in to fill the void. I need to displace it with extra-personal considerations, cosmic thoughts, while embracing Christopher deep in my heart.
The amoeba’s microcosmic dream came back to enchant me. It was a dream by a human about the human origin, about the way of self-becoming, a subject by which the human dreamer has been fascinated for years. The scope of the process from single cells to human being is staggering. If the step between Australopithecus and Homo Sapiens is momentous, how would you describe the steps before Australopithecus backtracking all the way to the primordial cell?
“Australopithecus is wonderful. But even a mole or an ant can contribute to human self-understanding.”
“What do you mean?”
“Tell me. When a mole digs a hole into the ground, what does it seek?”
“A mole is a subterranean hunter. So when it digs, it digs for food.”
“And when an ant digs a hole in the ground?”
“An ant builds subterranean nests. It digs for shelter.”
“And when those humans in Olduvai Gorge digs, what do they seek?”
“They dig for fossils and artifacts.”
“And what are these fossils and artifacts good for?”
“They tell us the truth of our origin.”
“Therefore, Homo Sapiens is a species in possession of a godly quality, a species in search of truth.”
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
February 20, 1999, Saturday, sunny, 12-26C
[18:10 @ Rm.112, Kanha Tiger Lodge]
We (Faiyaz, Jane, CJ and I) started for the park at 06:30 this morning, with me at the wheel, and were surprised and a little disappointed to find that Tirath had already gone into the park with another party. We took on Johan as guide, and headed for the Kanha Nature Centre in the centre of the park mid-way between the Mukki and Kisli gates. There, we found Mr. Negi, Deputy Director of the core area, and managed to catch Mr. Rajeesh Gopal, Field Director of the entire Kanha National Park, core plus buffer, just before he left Kanha on a trip to Delhi. Both seemed interested in the conference. Gopal even said that he would bring his own slideshow. Negi conversed with Faiyaz at length, in Hindi, then asked me what my intention was to organize the event. I answered that it was a means to help preserve the Kanha tigers and the park itself. It is certainly the most effective means to cut down on deforestation we can think of. He seemed satisfied by that. Negi also said that he would suggest a number of names of people he would like to see invited to the conference. So, it seems that the authorities, the park personnel as well as the villagers are generally in favor of the conference idea. The only person left is Avtar.
Speaking of which, although Avtar has agreed to the Buffer Zone outreach plan, and although the first installment from WCWC/CIDA has arrived days ago, he has yet to send any money for the execution of the plan, which basically would be for fuel for the outreach vehicle, if there indeed is an outreach vehicle. I have little doubt that even if Avtar said that I could have the use of one of the lodge Gypsies for Buffer Zone outreach purposes, when it comes to the same Gypsy being needed by Manohar for extra tourists and by Faiyaz for village outreach, the Gypsy would be commandeered by Manohar, and there would be nothing I or Faiyaz could do about it. I may need to sooner or later confront Avtar on a number of fronts, but I want no friction with Manohar whatsoever, because this is the temporary home of all of us and peace and harmony must be maintained, and Manohar is only following Avtar’s orders. If necessary, I will hire a Gypsy perhaps from one of the other tourist lodges out of my own pocket, and try to reclaim it from Avtar or WCWC later..
After the meeting with Gopal and Negi, we took the long and slow way back to the lodge, not having visited the park for quite a few days. I want to record the pugmarks and map them, and, with the help of our park guide, identify the individual tigers if possible, and do more wildlife photography to enrich my slideshow, and perhaps to see a tiger. For brunch, we pulled up under the banyan tree overlooking the paddy-fields-turned-meadow. Having been tightly crammed together in the rear deck of the Gypsy for the last three hours, we savored this our only opportunity to walk on Kanha soil, and our momentary solitudes in this our ephemeral personal Eden suffused with heavenly peace. It is so easy and indeed so natural, even inevitable, to achieve this state in a setting like this. Even for me, with the continuing devastation of Christopher looming over my head like a black cloud, I would find myself having drifted imperceptibly from under it and feeling very much relaxed and at ease.
There was a large herd of over a hundred chital deer grazing in the meadow, among the few widely dispersed trees and termite mounds. The landscape was so bright it was brilliant. The air was so silent it hissed. In an Indian wilderness, we naturally whisper. Today, we did not even whisper. This was truly the holy of holies. This was not St. Peter’s Cathedral. This was, so to speak, a natural cathedral build by the hands of God.
“Ultimately, the Universe Itself is the supreme cathedral, the Earth is one of Its innumerable chambers of worship, and life is the act of worship itself,” whispered Raminothna. After a moment, She said, “I have shown you the art of spatial perceptual Pliancy. Time to give you an exercise in time dilation and compression.”
“Space and time, makes sense. Go ahead.”
“Take a time lapse movie of this meadow covering a hundred years, and play it back in a hundred seconds, and what do you see?”
I looked intensely at the meadow for a full minute. “Yes, finally, I see what I think you want me to see. But I don’t see what point you’re trying to make.”
“What do you see?”
“Well, first, I see the grass covering the meadow. It’s like a shimmering carpet alternating green and brown once every second.”
“Next are the trees. They sprout from the ground, mushroom to full stature, then suddenly collapse, then crumble to nothing, all within several dozen seconds, each in its own time of course. And while they live, they give off once-per-second flowering flashes.”
“And the animals. They are individually invisible, because they move so superfast, but instead form a ground-hugging probability cloud.”
“So far, so good.”
“And, yes, let’s not forget the termite mounds. They behave just like the trees. They sprout from the ground just like the trees, mushroom to full size just like the trees, then suddenly dying and eventually crumbling to nothing, just like the trees, all within several dozen seconds just like the trees, each in its own time of course, just like the trees. And while they live, just like the trees, they also give off once-per-second flashes comprising the release and swarming of winged reproductive alates from all mounds simultaneously. This is what you want me to see, isn’t it – about the termite mounds?”
“And what do you make of it?”
“That a termite mound is as alive as a tree? Which makes common sense, since the termites themselves are alive. Is that it? That the termite mounds are alive?”
“Yes, but not far enough.”
“I would have thought that to call a termite mound alive is already going a little too far, since only the termites are alive, but not the shell of the mound.”
“Is this like saying that calling a crab alive is going a little too far, since only its cells are alive, but not its shell?”
“But a crab is a bona fide organism – a living thing.”
“Ah ha! Now we’re getting somewhere,”
“You’re not actually saying that a termite mound is a bona fide organism, are you?”
“Well, there is one test I learned in high school that can answer this for certain. I can run it through the gauntlet of classical biology’s Seven Vital Functions. A candidate entity must possess all seven vital functions to qualify as a bona fide organism.”
“Sure. Do it.”
“Okay. The First Vital Function is Ingestion. A bona fide organism needs to ingest materials of some kind, plants and other animals in the case of animals, and solar energy, water, O2, CO2 and certain minerals in the case of plants. The termite mound does need to ingest grass, leaves and dead wood.”
“Do the termites themselves ingest the grass, leaves and dead wood?”
“Actually, they do not.”
“What do they ingest?”
“They ingest a specific species of fungus that grows on a substrate composed of mulched grass, leaves and wood.”
“So, what exactly is the food for the termite mound?”
“Grass, leaves and wood.”
“And the fungus?”
“An intermediate product of the mound’s internal metabolism.”
“Couldn’t have put it better myself.”
“Thank you. The Second Vital Function is Excretion. The mound does discharge waste material, such as exhausted substrate, uneaten fungal parts, miscellaneous debris and dead termites.”
“And the termite’s own excreta?”
“It is used as a cement for the shell and internal partitions of the mound. So the termites’ feces is not the termite mound’s excretion but is the internal secretion of the mound, equivalent to the internal secretion of the crab which builds the shell of the crab.”
“The Third Vital Function is Reactivity. The mound does react to external stimuli. If attacked, by ants for example, it defends itself - by means of its soldiers. If damaged, by ant-eaters for example, it heals itself - by means of the major workers.”
“The Fourth Vital Function is Movement. A termite mound, in fact, has more power of movement than a tree, since it can send out its termites, like a tentacle, to seek and retrieve food.”
“The Fifth Vital Function is Growth. The termite mound does grow, as our virtual videotape demonstrated, in physical size as well as its termite population.
“The Sixth Vital Function is Homeostasis. The termite mound can maintain its own core temperature to within one degree year round. If heated, it cools itself by having the minor workers to go down to the water table via water-access tunnels dug by the major workers, sometimes meters down, each bringing back a droplet of water in its jaws, which they then would stick onto a partition wall, thus cooling the mound. If chilled, it warms itself by the termites clustering, thus maintaining its core temperature. If disturbed, it has a tendency to return to order.
“The Seventh Vital Function is Reproduction. The termite mounds do reproduce.”
“You mean the termites reproduce?”
“No. Termite reproduction is actually the growth of the mound in terms of its internal population. Mound reproduction is old mounds begetting new mounds.”
“Well, now, I have no choice but to conclude that a termite mound is a bona fide organism. The idea just initially struck me to be an outlandish notion.”
“There is even an Eighth Vital Function, if you’re interested.”
“Evolution. An organism would have the mechanism to evolve. Not only do the termites evolve, their mounds do as well, in terms of the shapes and sizes and internal structure of the mound.”
“Okay, consider me convinced. A termite is a bona fide organism. So where is this leading us?”
“Enough for one day.”
Manohar was packing up the lunch utensils. We got slowly back into the Gypsy.
After we had returned to the lodge, second thoughts about the conference made themselves known. It seemed to me that the thing had quickly grown beyond my original concept of just having a meeting with the villagers. The way things look, the conference is going to be all in Hindi, as demonstrated by the Faiyaz-Negi conversation this morning, between the panchayats and the government officials, and they may take off on a tangent from our central thrust which is tiger conservation. And we (WCWC and Canada) may become irrelevant, in which case we’ll have served as facilitators, but not participants.
Also, the panchayats would come without any basic tiger conservation awareness and the conference might arrive at a conclusion unfavorable to the tiger. I called another meeting to discuss this problem. After much exchange we decided that as originally planned, Faiyaz will invite panchayat members into the lodge several at a time on a daily basis, and I will give them a slideshow, with Faiyaz translating. This would give them at least some forethought on tiger conservation and set the tone for the conference, which we could defer until April or even May, after I have left. We would then inform the panchayats about the conference during the slideshow. This will also keep me much busier than in the original plan where Faiyaz will go out to organize the conference, and Jane and I will more or less just be sitting here waiting for it to happen, since there would not be another vehicle for me to use. Faiyaz also suggested that I get all the Delhi and Jaipur media clippings sent to me for presentation to the local Project Tiger office. He believes that the clippings will get me easily in the door, and my ideas (e.g. raising park entrance fee) taken seriously. After about three hours of this discussion and debate, we adjourned on this note.
Around 15:00, Faiyaz and CJ went to Baihar to phone Delhi, partly to relay my message that both Jane and I wish to stay at Kanha until I leave India. As before, Avtar was not there, and they spoke with Raman. Again, Raman overstepped his bounds and question Faiyaz why we would need the clippings, but Faiyaz told him to just send them. Raman also informed Faiyaz that Manohar and Surinder, with the new Gypsy, will arrive back at Kanha this evening, via Bandhavgarh, and that Kim, and perhaps another Dynamic Tours volunteer stationed at Bandhavgarh named Julian Cook from Britain, who all but insisted to come to Kanha, citing extreme idleness and boredom at Bandhavgarh. Kim was not even allowed to speak to the tourists by a certain tour operator, whom Jane and CJ believe to be Ed Cambridge - “a prick”, by their consensus. Much as I’d love to see Kim again, and I cannot deny a certain attraction, this will complicate the situation somewhat, since then Jane may have to go to Bandhavgarh to take Kim’s place. We’ll see how it goes.
[23:16] In the middle of the evening, someone walked into the lodge, and guess who? Julian Cook from Bandhavgarh. Yesterday, he and Kim tried to get to Umaria under their own steam without success, and had to turn back. He struck out on his own this morning at about 06:00 and finally got here by about 21:00 via many changes of buses. Having devoted three months of his time to the Bandhavgarh Jungle Lodge, and paying the lodge US$200 per month for the trouble, this is the treatment he gets. They don’t even have the decency to give him a ride to Umaria with one of the Bandhavgarh Tiger Lodge Gypsies. Further, when he was leaving, Mohinder, Avtar’s Bandhavgarh Tiger Lodge manager, didn’t thank him, didn’t acknowledge his services, but said to him, “You used 65 bottles of mineral water during your stay. You’ll have to pay us Rs.1300 for them before you leave.” Pretty tacky, if you ask me.
This reminded me of something similar that happened to the Omni Film crew. When they first arrived back in 1997, they were each given a Bandhavgarh Tiger Lodge baseball cap, which they gratefully received. But when they left the lodge, they were charged full price for the caps. As I said – tacky.
Of course we crowded around Julian, for news from Bandhavgarh. One thing he said, confirmed by both Faiyaz and the tribal employees at the lodge, is that Pushra Singh, a descendant of the maharaja of Rewa who used to own the land where Bandhavgarh now sits, has special permission to go into the park to hunt animals at will.
“Tigers too?” I asked Julian.
“I think not, but you never know,” he said.
Julian is tall, lean, about 30, with a longishly handsome face. His attire is jungle-oriented. He is an avid bird watcher, as are Faiyaz and Deepfee. There is much harmony in the camp.
I love you, Christopher, as always.
* * * * *
February 21, 1999, Sunday, sunny, 12-26C
[16:59 @ Rm.112, Kanha Tiger Lodge]
At 06:50 this morning, Tirath came to the lodge. At 07:00, Faiyaz, who cannot drive – his only shortcoming - left with him in the Gypsy to visit villages – perhaps up to 10 - with my bulging media folder, to which have been added two of the latest Jaipur newspaper clippings, in the crook of his arm. I shouldn’t even mention his inability to drive, since we’ve deemed it wise to have him be accompanied by another person anyway.
Jane, CJ, Julian and I, being non-Indians and deemed unsuitable for initial village visits, stayed behind at the lodge to perform “office” tasks. The large and boisterous group of tourists from Calcutta has gone into the park, leaving us in peace and quiet to chart our courses.
Faiyaz returned around 16:00 with a big grin on his humble and honest face, and my media folder clutched in both his hands like a box of jewels. He had a highly fruitful day, dropping by village after village, talking about this “genuine and dedicated” Canadian conservationist, persuading about 8 panchayat leaders, one of whom representing as many as 12 villages, to come to the Tiger Fund Conservation Centre day after tomorrow, the 23rd, at 13:30. They will leave around 19:00. Transportation both ways will be by Tiger Fund Gypsy driven by lodge employee Surinder.
“It is much easier than I originally thought to get the villagers interested to come to see you, and some of them have to walk an hour or more through forest just to get out on to the road to be picked up,” he reported.
We arranged for him and Tirath to go out again tomorrow to do the same with more villages, aiming for a second meeting on the 25th. The 24th, he will go into the nontourist part of the park with a guide and guard provided by the park to access the villages on the other side – permission already applied for and obtained.
I also advised him to let me be the custodian of the Gypsy key so that Manohar couldn’t get it from him and have us grounded. At least Manohar would think twice before asking me for it, and even if he does, I could always gracefully decline, in which case he would have done his job and Avtar will just have to take issue with me. As of the 23rd, for three days, a large group of about 20 tourists will be here for about three days, and Manohar will certainly need more Gypsies. Well, he’ll just have to hire more Gypsies. We have a job to do, we have provided a budget to do it with, and I have come from Canada to do a key part of it, and we will bloody well do it. With a partner like this, who needs wood-cutters?
In the late morning, I packed a lunch and hiked down to the river behind the lodge. It is by far the most scenic place within walking distance. But my main reason is to observe the human and cattle activity on the other side of the small river, which is the fringe of the Core Area of Kanha National Park. When I have time, I should go into the park to a certain depth, say a quarter mile, then observe the activities at that depth. There is an unfrequented park road that goes to within an eighth of a mile of the core-area/buffer-zone boundary. I could park the Gypsy there and bring my laptop computer.
There is a crook in the river, and a tree standing in a certain way, which reminded me of a similar crook in the Coquitlam River, with a similar tree, where Christopher and I used to go. I came back half anticipating, and half dreading, this magical spot. I came to the crook, but there was no tree. It had been cut down since our last time to Chichrunpur. I walked right up to the tree stump. The cut was still fresh, and moist. Around it are scattered bits and pieces of the ex-tree, but the trunk and branches were gone. I of course saw red. Now it is personal. And a terrible question. What if the logs to be burnt at the fire pit for the oncoming group of tourists come from this tree?
I sat down against the stump and mourned its passing. The feeling is not unfamiliar. I had been mourning the passing of the tree of love that Christopher and I have been blissfully cultivating. I tried to stem the rage that always inevitably follows the mourning. I told myself that this is one more signal for me to harden my resolve to save Kanha from the axe, and to save Christopher from whatever sad fate may await him in his precarious future path. Still, the rage rose irrepressibly like magma from a great depth. I began to seethe with hatred at the mother who would intentionally devastate her own child. I knew hatred was an unholy sentiment, but what else could I feel under these circumstances? Love? Forgiveness? Give me a break!
I’ve thought a lot about forgiveness lately. Should I forgive Christine? Could I? Would I if I could? Today? Tomorrow? Forever? As I see it, forgiveness does not even enter the equation until the devastation of Christopher stops. And then, only if Christine asks for it, no, begs for it. She never will. So I suppose I’ll just carry my unforgiveness to my grave.
Almost savagely I zipped open my knapsack, and hauled the two big and heavy books out of it, titled Sociobiology and Insect Societies, both by Edward O. Wilson. I brought them to India as a part of my ongoing self-education. Today, I brought them out to read about termite mounds – one of which I could see standing about six feet tall at the foot of a tree on the other side of the river.
On p. 317 of Insect Societies, titled “The Superorganism Concept and Beyond”, I read:
“The idea of homeostasis leads easily to the visualization of the entire insect colony as a kind of superorganism. In fact, the story of the superorganism concept, from its origin as a philosophical idea sixty years ago to its present sharp decline in contemporary thinking, should prove instructive to historians of science as well as to biologists with a more immediate interest in the subject. During some forty years, from 1911 to about 1950, this concept was a dominant theme in the literature on social insects. Then, at the seeming peak of its maturity it faded, and today it is seldom explicitly discussed. Its decline exemplifies the way inspirational, holistic ideas in biology often give rise to experimental, reductionist approaches that supplant them…
“… the current generation of students of social insects…saw its future in stepwise experimental work in narrowly conceived problems, and it has chosen to ignore the superorganism concept… Seldom has so ambitious a scientific concept been so quickly and almost totally discarded.
“The superorganism concept faded not because it was wrong but because it no longer seemed relevant. It is not necessary to invoke the concept in order to commence work on animal societies. The concept offers no techniques, measurements, or even definitions by which the intricate phenomena in genetics, behavior, and physiology can be unraveled. It is even difficult to cite examples where the conscious use of the idea led to a new discovery in animal sociology…
“… But it would be wrong to overlook the significant, albeit semiconscious, role this idea had played in the history of the subject…
“Finally, it might be asked what vision, if any, has replaced the superorganism concept… there is no new holistic conception…”
“So, what does this leave us?” I asked Raminothna. “It seems that the door has been slammed shut on the concept decades ago.”
“It is about to open again.”
“It slammed shut for a reason. Is the reason gone?”
“Yes it is.”
“And what is this reason?”
“Its name, to begin with.”
“If you call a society of organisms a superorganism, what would you call a society of superorganisms?”
“And what do you call a society of supersuperorganism?”
“See what I mean?”
“Yes. Cumbersome, to say the least. So what’s your solution?”
“Well, first, we have established that the termite cell, termite and the termite mound are all organisms.”
“Yes, we have.”
‘It is very clear now. Where the termite cell, termite and termite mound are concerned, they are all organisms, but on different level of organization, where the termite mound is a society of termites, and the termite is a society of termite cells.”
“And on each level of organization, there are nonsocial and social organisms.”
“I can even write a simple equation to describe these levels: Society (X) = Organism (X+1), or Organism (X) = Society (X-1).”
“This is so obvious, why didn’t Wheeler and the others see it?”
“What did Thomas Huxley say after reading Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species?”
“Yes, he did say, ‘This is so obvious why didn’t I think of it?’”
“A common question for brilliant minds.”
This evening, about 19:00, Jane, Faiyaz and I went to Baihar to see Jharia to get a map of the 40 Core-periphery villages, and to call Delhi and Bandhavgarh. Jharia has left town on business, and after some difficulty, we did reach Mohinder, manager of the Tiger Lodge at Bandhavgarh National Park, who informed Faiyaz that Manohar had left Bandhavgarh for Kanha with Surinder as of 15:00, and should arrive at Kanha around 22:00, and that Avtar had no problem with me and Jane not going to Bandhavgarh. This, however, where Avtar is concerned, as he told Mohinder, means that Kim would have to stay at Bandhavgarh in Jane’s place, which to Kim is unfair, as she told me when she got on the phone with me. I said to her that she is a volunteer, not a prisoner. I added that the tourist season is winding down, but campaigning action is cranking up, and if she wants to do conservation work instead of tourist work, she should ask Avtar for her to come to Kanha as well, and I would welcome her with open arms into the project. And I told her briefly about our panchayat conference plan. She may be able to come with the major tourist group of Mr. Richards on Tuesday the 23rd when they cross over from Bandhavgarh to Kanha, because after that, there will be no tourists at Bandhavgarh for a week or two.
While driving, under Jane’s orchestration, we made up a song to be sung to CJ tomorrow evening, the eve of his permanent departure. It is a modification of the Beatles’ Yesterday:
Our goodbyes still seemed so far away
But o now we have to part we say
O we believe in yesterday
We’re not half the team we used to be
Now that you’re going across the sea
O we believe in yesterday
Why you have to go we don’t know
We wish you’d stay
We love all your songs
Now we long for yesterday
I said to Jane, “I think Christopher will cry when he hears this.”
Jane said, “I think I will too.”
Manohar arrived around 22:00. Before he did, I had said to the gang, “I hope he’s got the right slide projector and the slides with him.” What I need are Tiger Fund’s 220 volt slide projector, the 140-slot slide tray with the 130 duped slides, and an extra 80-slot empty tray for Jane to use after my own departure at the end of March. I had given the list in writing for Reshem to give to Avtar before I left Delhi. Well, guess what? Instead, Manohar was given the WCWC 110 volt projector without the voltage converter, and an empty slide tray without any slides. I blew my top and stormed back to my room, but not before exclaiming, “Fucking incompetent bastards!”
And now that the panchayat leaders are coming in day after tomorrow to pay us homage, what do I have to show them? All I have now is the Champions of the Wild video, which is in English, and which does not show the Chinese medicines, nor the habitat diminishing maps, nor the devastated landscapes after deforestation and overgrazing, nor... With the language barrier already standing in the way, I need all the help I can get. Coming to visit us in groups of 7-8 over the next three weeks are the most powerful and influential village council leaders in the whole of Kanha’s Buffer Zone. At best, my presentation will be much weakened, at the crucial time when finally we have kick-started what may be the best and most comprehensive outreach program ever launched at Kanha by any organization at any time.
I felt like quitting on the spot and flying back to Vancouver on the first available flight and canning the whole thing. But even before the thought had completed itself, the second thought had superceded it – that of course I would not quit. I’ll just have to make the best of what little I am given to work with.
After cooling off a little, I came back out and said to Manohar, “It’s not your fault. Don’t worry about it.” As it happens he was pissed off at the Delhi Magnificent Tours people himself, because try as he did, he did not get the money he needed from the Delhi office for the Richards group of tourists due to arrive from Bandhavgarh day after tomorrow, resulting in his departure from Delhi being delayed for several hours for nothing. I can believe it, and we can howl our rage all we want. Nobody in Delhi would hear it, and now, what is Manohar going to use to hire more Gypsies with?
He and I planned to go to Baihar to call Delhi first thing in the morning, and have Raman send a “boy” (Manohar’s term) on the 14:30 train with the right slide projector and the slides tomorrow, who will arrive at Gondia on the 23rd 10:00, who will then take a bus to the Kanha Tiger Lodge, hopefully arriving just on time for the late afternoon slideshow.
“If there is interest at head office to do that,” Manohar added with a shrug of resignation.
“It is not a matter of interest. It is a matter of necessity,” I fumed.
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
February 22, 1999, Monday, sunny, 12-26C
[18:41 @ Rm.112, Kanha Tiger Lodge]
As planned, while Faiyaz struck off with Tirath at 08:00 on another round of panchayat invitations, Manohar and I set out for Baihar to call Delhi. We succeeded in reaching Raman first try, and he received the request, no, demand, for the 220 volt slide projector and the tray of slides in near silence. We also tried to contact Avtar in Jodpur because he’s been asking Manohar what we’re up to. Again, he was unavailable. Both Manohar and I felt Raman either would not do as we requested, or he would screw up again somehow.
During our long time alone together, Manohar began to share with me some of his thoughts. He feels that Avtar’s move to Canada is a big mistake, that his presence is almost zero in Delhi as it is, and his Delhi operation has “collapsed”. “You can’t do business by e-mail,” he said. He feels that the Delhi office considers him “illiterate” and treats him with disrespect. He is supportive of what I am doing at Kanha, but feels that there is a “great distance” between me and Avtar. On the last score, I was quite open about how Avtar and I differ in our thoughts on staying put at the conservation centre versus reaching out Buffer-Zone-wide. I explained that my coming from Canada to India is an outreach unto itself, and once in India, I by nature would want to reach out as far as possible on the local ground, and that outreach is the best way to generate media, which is the best way to create public awareness, which is the highest baseline to get things changed. While on media, I also told Manohar that Avtar and the Delhi office disappointed me by having generated no media coverage at all for the school presentations. So, there, we have an understanding. I don’t mind or care if it goes back to Avtar, which I suspect it will. In fact, I think that would be good.
Later in the day, about 13:45, we drove back to Baihar and called both Avtar and Raman again. Avtar was still at large, but Raman reported that he had sent a “boy” out, with the tray of slides, but, wouldn’t you know it, again, rather than the 220 volt projector as I requested, he had sent the voltage converter instead, with the attached requirement that the converter be sent back for use on Big Cub with the “boy” when he returns to Delhi, which means in a day or two. Another fuck up, but what’s new? Well, that’s not going to happen. He created the problem by sending the wrong thing, again. Had he sent the 220 volt projector, the converter would be in Delhi for Big Cub and I would send the WCWC 110 volt projector back with the “boy”, and everybody would be happy. Now, they would just have to find another converter in Delhi.
The electric power blacks out regularly for hours at a time every day. Today, it was from 07:00 this morning all the way till almost 18:00 this afternoon. If tomorrow is the same, we’d be in big trouble. I worked out the solution that the meeting with the panchayat leaders, representing about 16 villages, will begin at 13:30 as planned. It will be a getting-to-know-you session which will be informal. At 15:00, we’ll take them into the park, with me driving and Faiyaz at the back interpreting. We’ll be back to the lodge at about 17:30. Hopefully, the power will have come back on by then, which it usually does. I’ll give my slideshow as soon as the power comes back on, and wind up by 19:00 at the latest.
Faiyaz came back around 15:30 this afternoon, and proclaimed another good day, with another 7 panchayat leaders representing another 16 villages. They will come same time on February 27. In this case, he will go into the park’s eastern core to visit the 22 villages there, and will go another round in the buffer zone on the 25th.
[00:16] This evening, Manohar went shopping at Malanjkhan, the copper-mining town where the volunteer doctor lives, and invited Julian and me along for the ride, together with two tribal lodge employees. We tried to call Avtar again, and this time he was at a wedding. Manohar asked me if I had any message to pass on to Avtar. I said, “Say that I wish him long life and prosperity.” And added, “Just tell him what you know about our plan and progress regarding the panchayat outreach and conference.”
When we came back, we had our little farewell party for CJ. After some merriment, we (Jane, Faiyaz and I) sang our modified Yesterday for CJ. It was a warm and loving evening for all.
Looking at the map of the Buffer Zone, the villages may well be 178 termite mounds dotted over a doughnut-shaped piece of land.
“What does this tell you?”
“That a village too is an organism?”
“What level of organization is it on?”
“The same one as termite mound’s.”
“What level would that be?”
“I think it depends on whether the village and the city are on the same level or not. If not, I would call it the Tribal level of organization. But if they are on the same level, then I would call that level the Citian level of organization.”
“I’ll have to think more about it. But I’m seeing the benefit of this multi-leveled framework already.”
“And that is?”
“A possible predictive value. It leads us to ask: Are there levels below and above? If so, what?”
“Whatever they be, make a prediction.”
“Whatever they be, I would wager that they would contain nonsocial and social forms.”
And on this note, good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
February 23, 1999, Tuesday, sunny, 13-28C
[12:02 @ Rm., 111, Kanha Tiger Lodge]
Today, the lodge will be a beehive of activities.
First of course is the panchayat meeting. Faiyaz has been off with Tirath as of 08:00 to pick up the panchayat leaders, due to arrive around 13:30. But before he left, he told Jane he may have chosen the wrong day, since today is market day, and some panchayat members may not come and those who do may not be able to stay very long. We’ll have to see how it goes. Right now, Jane has volunteered to take charge of the solar oven demonstration by cooking one pot of rice set to start around 13:00. We have also set up the solar reflector in the parking lot near the clinic, just to give them the idea. The slideshow is scheduled for about 5 pm. By then, hopefully, the voltage converter and the slides will have arrived, and the power will have come back on.
Second is the arrival of the Richards party of about 20 from Bandhavgarh.
Third, but not least, is the return of Kim.
So, as things worked out, today is about as satisfying a campaigning day as any I’ve experienced. Jane said afterwards, “This is the most successful day so far in India.” The superlative is well deserved, even factoring in the heady days in Delhi and Jaipur, and the tiger-sighting days in the park.
There were several kinks due to our inexperience and the experimental nature of the meeting, such as keeping the panchayats waiting 10 minutes after they arrived, the slide projector being locked in the clinic waiting room and the key could not be found, poor food served to the panchayaters, no calendar for planning, Jane leaving her notebook in her room, etc., but nothing that could touch the day’s essential excellence.
Faiyaz did arrive around 13:30, with 7 panchayat leaders. Between 13:45 and 14:50, I chatted with them via Faiyaz’s rapid fire verbal translations. I myself could read their body language without interpretation, and all showed interest, understanding and agreement, with frequent positive feedback. Jane took copious notes and CJ video-documented the proceedings until towards the end when the Hi8 cam began to act up a little due to overheating.
We started with a round of self-introductions for the panchayats. They were:
Jaitpuri panchayat (4 villages)
– Mrs. Dhanmat Dhurve, sarpanch (head of panchayat)
Mr. Budh Singh Dhurve, ward member
Paundi panchayat (4 villages)
- Mr. Bagas Ram Mohne, ward member
Mr. Saheblal Bhardwaj, village elder
And three others. So that’s 8 villages out of the 178.
Faiyaz had laid solid ground for me, since their attitude towards me was one of deference and respect. Faiyaz said it was all due to my media folder, which spoke for itself and for me, and which he now upholds like “the Bible”, as CJ put it.
Then, I asked for their grievances, which were: too little irrigation, too few schools, requiring children to walk up to 10 km one way on country roads or foot paths, too few medical clinics, leaving some villages without access to any medical services, no roads between villages of the same panchayat, no compensation for livestock lost to predators and for crops lost to wild grazers, lower compensation for villagers than for urbanites who lost their lives to various unnatural causes, inadequate government works, unfulfilled government promises (is this Canada here?), etc.. To these I said that I would do what I can to help them, by presenting their case to the right people, and by pushing for park reform that could benefit them. I may have impressed upon them the long established tenet that the tiger is worth more to them alive than dead, and the park would benefit them more intact than degraded or destroyed. One villager returned to the chital-raiding-crop problem, to which I replied that we could help him introduce alternative crops, like orange, that chital don’t eat, and that the tiger eats chital and are therefore their ally. Much much more - see video tape.
At 14:55, we led them out to the parking lot to view the solar devices. Jane opened the oven before their eyes, and revealed a pot of rice cooked to perfection – the woman’s touch? We shared it with the panchayat people in an afternoon snack (with a dish provided by the kitchen looking like tofu squares soaked in ketchup which I found not particularly pleasing). There can be no doubting the usefulness of the tool in the eyes of the villagers. We then returned to the schoolroom for further discussions. One villager asked whether the oven can be used in the rainy season, which showed that he had accepted the idea for the dry season. I replied that India has 9-10 sunny months, versus Vancouver’s 4-5, and is ideal for solar technology. The other 2-3 months? They could use biogas or, what the hell, burn wood.
At 16:00, we went into the park. Since there were 7 of them, we took two Gypsies, the old green one with loose steering driven by driven by CJ and the black new one by me. Faiyaz came with me, and Julian went with CJ to enjoy his first excursion into Kanha National Park, with Tirath serving as guide in their vehicle.
After entering the gate, Faiyaz told me that the gate guard was grumbling that Faiyaz put me and CJ at the wheels, both being foreigners, for the purpose of saving money, since drivers do not need to pay the park entrance fee, and the gate fee for foreigners is ten times higher than that for Indians (which means that an Indian tourist staying at the Tiger Lodge, paying Avtar some C$300 per day, pays a ridiculous C$0.25 to get into the park to see the tiger which is the whole purpose of his/her trip). I responded by telling Faiyaz to pay the fee on the way out. When it was done, it was received with surprise and appreciation.
None of the villagers has ever entered the park before and they had an eye-opening good time, enthralled by the very wildness of the place, the only things artificial in sight being the Gypsy and its contents including my camera. They were awed by even the chital that but an hour ago they loathed for plundering their crops. Faiyaz said something beautiful and profound: “I want them to fall in love with the park, even with the chital.”
Raminothna, on the other hand, gave me another gem of her divine logic.
“So you think the Gypsy is unnatural?”
“What if I say that it is natural.”
“The Gypsy? Natural. You’d be forcing me to say that you are wrong.”
While passing the termite mounds Raminothna asked me, “Is a termite society natural?”
“Of course it is.”
“Is a lion pride natural?”
“Is a chimpanzee troop natural?”
“Is a human tribe natural?”
“Well, following your logic, I would have to say yes.”
“Are the termite mounds artificial or natural.”
“What parts of them are natural?”
“The whole mound is natural.”
“Including the shell and internal partition walls of the mound?”
“I will have to say yes, because the shell and internal partition walls of a mound are as natural as the shell and internal partition walls of a crab.”
Passing the village of Manjitola on the way back to the lodge, “Is this village natural?”
“Again, abiding by your logic, yes, it is.”
“Including the wall and the internal partitions of the village?”
“And everything else that are of the village?”
“Yes. And now, I see what you by mean by the Gypsy being natural.”
“In as much as all things in the Universe can be said to be natural.”
We returned to the lodge at about 18:00. When I parked the new Gypsy back in the roofed parking spot behind the kitchen, Mr. Jharia, the forest conservator, was there waiting for me, and had been waiting since about 17:30. I apologized, explained, then took him to the parking lot to view the solar devices and to socialize with the panchayaters. Soon after that the power came back on, and, with the very efficient translation of Faiyaz, I gave the tiger slideshow without much modification. Jane’s free school children were there in the front row. The whole room was pin-drop silent. When it was over, Jharia gave a bright and meaningful smile. Later, Faiyaz told me that Jharia was amazed by the receptiveness of the panchayat members.
Yesterday, during a pre-event chat between Manohar and the rest of us, there was a lot of concern and apprehension about the reaction of the panchayaters, given their long standing antagonism to the tiger, the park and officialdom. I don’t know what we did for officialdom, but I believe we undid huge knots in their hostility to the tiger and the park, and further, implanted positive feelings in them for what they now have begun to regard as their potential benefactors. Manohar was too busy to attend the show, but whatever doubt in Faiyaz’s mind has been dispelled. Tirath was given to drive the panchayaters back to their villages.
At one point in the meeting, Faiyaz had to run back to the lodge to get his calendar to set a date with the panchayaters for the conference – out here, we hardly know what day of the week any given day is. He was told by Manohar to not decide on anything without having first obtained Avtar’s approval. I said that I would have to go right ahead to decide and approve, since it would be extremely troublesome to inform the villagers later. Also, there is no guarantee that we would be able to get hold of Avtar any time soon. Later, I said to Manohar, “Your job is done. I have noted that you have told us to not set the time until we get Avtar’s approval. If he does not help, at least he should not hinder. He can take issue directly with me.” We set the date of the conference for March 23rd.
While walking the path towards the free school to meet the panchayaters, Jane said that she was very demoralized by Avtar’s attitude.
I said, “The important thing is what we’re doing, not what Avtar is not doing. What do you think of our outreach work so far and our conference plan?”
Jane said, “Totally fine.”
“Then things are by and large fine.”
She brightened up in time for the panchayaters.
This evening, I was introduced to a VIP – Collector Manu Srivastava. “Collector” is a curious title, but he is the top brass in the district, with broad and sweeping powers. His long-standing main-concern is the antagonism on the part of the villagers against the park. We had an amicable social chat around the fire pit, then agreed that while his parents go into the park in the morning, we will have breakfast together at 09:00 and talk in depth.
So, Kim is back. We shared a long hug, right in front of the lodge personnel. I do find her attractive, but I also know her boyfriend John who is a great guy and a dynamic volunteer for the WCWC tiger campaign. Manohar pulled his practical joke about putting her into Rm. 111 (mine), given the lodge being full, and got two reactions from the ladies: Jane showed spontaneous indignation and disapproval, but after only a casual “Are you serious?”, Kim said, “No problem.” The rest roared with laughter. I joked that I had planned the stunt with Manohar to see what her reaction would be. Kim didn’t know what to believe. In fact, she was given Rm. 115, but was later pulled from it into Jane’s room for one night. Around, 23:15, while I was standing with Manohar and Faiyaz planning tomorrow’s activities, she came to join us in her pajamas.
Manohar and Faiyaz had some disagreements regarding vehicular use. As expected, Manohar said that the Tiger Fund team would have no vehicle to use tomorrow. I said to hire a vehicle from an outside source, that TF’s CIDA budget should and would cover it, adding, “I’m here to work, not to wait.”
Manohar lapsed into Hindi and Faiyaz followed suit. After a stretch, I said, “Gentlemen, please use English. What you’re discussing concerns me. I’m a part of the planning process.” Manohar at once acquiesced, and said, quite respectfully, that I would have a vehicle to use tomorrow, at least as of noon.
About the food served to the panchayaters being poor, it deserves a comment. It had nothing to do with the solar oven, but the dish served with the rice left much to be desired – far substandard to the food that we are normally served. I asked Manohar about this and he said he didn’t want food to be the reason for the panchayaters to come. I asked some more, and he then told me that it was deliberately made substandard, because these were “just” villagers. I asked him to kindly shelf this line of thinking for the rest of the conference-organizing period, preferably for good.
This brought back a piece of memory from Calcutta, which is very telling on the Indian social system. While there back in 1997, I was put into a safe-house to stay for about four days. It was a windowless interior room on the fourth floor of an apartment building, with only one door. If the building caught fire, I’d be toast. Even without a fire, I was roasting. The ambient street temperature was a sizzling 42oC or over 100oF. When I first walked into the anteroom, which also served as the servant’s quarters, I felt I was entering an oven within an oven. There was no thermometer in the room, but it must be 50oC plus. “How can I last three hours, let alone three days, in this heat?” I thought to myself. But as soon as I opened the door to the master’s chamber, I was welcomed by a blast of cool air. The servant ushered me in, then closed the door from the outside. The cool air originated from an air conditioner mounted in the wall between the master’s and servant’s quarters, its cool end in the former, its hot end in the latter. Master standing on the servant’s head, and the servant has to say “Thank you, sir.” But I was myself born with my own dedicated “milk mom” back in old China, so who am I to criticize?
Later I had chai with Kim and along the way she filled me in on Bandhavgarh, which is in an uproar over Sita’s death. She is here in Kanha only to hostess the tourists. They will be here for only three days. After that, she will have to go back to Bandhavgarh if there is but one tourist there according to her terms of engagement with Avtar. We both feel a little sad about that, but understand that that’s just the way it’s going to be.
The last few words also apply to our tragedy. How uncaring and unkind sometimes the hand of fate. Good night, Christopher. Love you, as always.
* * * * *
February 24, 1999, Wednesday, sunny, 15-27C
[11:11 @ dining pavilion in Kanha Tiger Lodge]
The prearranged 09:00 breakfast with Manu Srivastava, Collector, Balaghat, Madhya Pradesh, was long yet enjoyable, not least of all because of his handsomeness and charm, as observed by Jane. His position of Collector is very high and influential, and his jurisdiction is over the whole district of Balaghat, including Kanha in its entirety, which means that he is above Rajeesh Gopal, Field Director, Kanha National Park. Wherever he goes, a guard hefting an automatic assault rifle loiters nearby. And yet, he is only in his early 30s, with a beautiful young wife and three small children, having advanced on the strength of his ability alone via a pyramidal countrywide examination competition system, so I was told. It invokes in my mind the Confucian system of dynastic China where young people from throughout the country traveled by whatever means to the national capital for a nation-wide competition for governmental positions, with titles like Jong Yuen, Taam Fa, Bong Ngan, etc. awarded, denoting the positions achieved in the competition. There were numerous stories of previously laughed-at geeks and down-trodden nerds returning to their native towns and villages in a glory that shamed their erstwhile tormentors.
When discussing an issue, Collector Srivastava has strong opinions, and projects them forcefully. It is a good thing that he agrees with my view that the gate charge for tourists should be raised, and half of the revenue be plowed towards directly benefiting villagers in the Buffer Zone. We talked of many other issues, from birth control to AIDS to of course the park, the villagers and wildlife conservation. He left around noon and I felt comfortable enough with him to joke, “Some day I may have to borrow your body guard.”
His wife is currently organizing a one-day women’s issues convention in a town called Seoni about 90 km. north of Balaghat on Feb. 27. Jane expressed a keen interest to attend, but also wanted to stay because that is the date of the next panchayat meeting. I urged her to go, but pointed out that her absence would be more justified if she could secure a plenary speech opportunity. This evening, we’ll go to Baihar to call Mrs. Srivastava to see about arranging that possibility. Manohar is kind enough to offer to accompany Jane, by bus, to Seoni if she goes, since there would be no tourists that day - by bus because he knows that Avtar would not approve of providing a Gypsy and the fuel for that purpose.
When Manohar came back from the morning safari with the Richards group of about 20 tourists (5 Gypsies), he told of an unbelievable morning’s sighting, even for a seasoned park tour-leader like him. First, they saw tiger, leopard, Gaur. Then they saw the very rare wild dogs –rarer even than the tigers - which alone is phenomenal. And then, to top it all, the wild dogs, which like the African hunting dogs are pack hunters, put on a show of hunting down a chital in a large meadow - a one-in-a-thousand chance sighting. He related how six or seven wild dogs appeared one by one on different point of the compass around the meadow, all converging upon a large herd of chital which began dashing in all directions, filling the air with their alarm calls. The dogs concentrated on a fawn and captured it, which then broke free and was captured again, and broke free again and was captured for the last time, and killed before Manohar’s very eyes. At one point some of the fleeing chital got so near and were so frantic that one of them slammed against the Gypsy he was in. The sequence lasted about 15 minutes, and Manohar said that it was about the best wildlife viewing experience he had ever had.
But guess what? While the wild dogs were just deploying themselves for action, some minutes into the hunting sequence, one of the tourists in the next Gypsy said, loud enough for all to hear, “Well, enough of dog-watching. Let’s go and find some tigers.” When Manohar was telling us about this, there was disdain written all over his face. Having been in the park enough times, Jane and I listened with jaws down and eyebrows up. There is no justice, is there? A perfect illustration of “casting pearls to swine.” Nature’s timing was a bit off. For once, I wish the tourists would not be so fixated on the tiger for a change. What would happen if the tiger disappears and Kanha becomes known as a “wild dog reserve”? What tourist would come to this park? What future would the park have then? Not to mention the Barasingha deer of which there is but one single population of about 300 in the world, right here in Kanha.
As recorded in yesterday’s entry, Manohar promised a vehicle after the morning drive, but when at 12:30 Faiyaz was ready to go into the East Core Area to visit the core villages, there was no vehicle to be had, although all five Gypsies were sitting empty in the parking lot. Manohar was holding all five vehicles available for the afternoon park drive just in case all 20 tourists decided to go. It was only due to four or five of them electing not to go that Manohar finally released one Gypsy for Faiyaz to use, but by then, it was past 15:00, when otherwise he would have left the lodge by 08:00. This is another indictment against Avtar, to have given Manohar such directives, so that he would cater to the tiger-viewing tourists at the expense of our tiger-saving work, and hire three extra Gypsies for the tourists, but not one more for the Buffer Zone outreach. And this is in spite of his promise to me of exclusive use of the new Gypsy. Again, Magnificent Tours was given priority over Tiger Fund. One whole precious day is wasted. No more. As of tomorrow, I will make damn sure that we will have a dedicated vehicle every day for the rest of my stay, even if I have to pay for it myself. I will campaign to have Avtar return the grant when I get back to Canada.
And of course, when finally one of the five Gypsies became available, one with bald tires, loose steering and almost no brakes was the one dispensed to Faiyaz, not the one Avtar paid for on the same day when the WCWC/CIDA money arrived.
CJ is leaving the lodge tomorrow for good. His first stop is Gondia, where he will catch a 26-hour train to Delhi, leaving Gondia at 18:00. Sorry to again dwell on this, but after devoting two months of his time to Avtar’s outfit, he was given a cheap bus ticket by Manohar which requires him to leave the lodge at 08:00, and wait for 5 hours somewhere en route. Since CJ will be traveling alone, he will not be able to relax for a moment due to the constant threat of theft. I went to talk to Manohar about this and he said that Avtar has not given him an extra rupee for anything outside of the tourist aspect of lodge operation. While on the train coming in, he was lifting a suitcase up to the overhead rack when another case by his feet was lifted, which contained his papers and other precious things. This is yet another unacceptably tacky and disrespectful way in which Avtar treats his nontourist people. Knowing that CJ has no money to pay for a jeep ride, Jane and I agreed among ourselves to hire one for him at our expense, at the cost of Rs.5 per km. The trip being 120 km. one way, the cost to Jane and me would be Rs.1250, or CDN$50. CJ can respectfully return the C$1 bus ticket to Manohar, no, to Avtar. To be fair, Manohar did give CJ the brass casting of a live-size tiger paw that has been hanging on a post of the dining pavilion. This shows Manohar’s generosity and gratitude, not Avtar’s, since the plaque does not require Manohar to come up with any money he does not have.
During afternoon tea for the tourists, a woman of about 60 looked at me and asked, “Are you a wildlife conservationist with WWF or something like that? I think I saw you on television while in Montreal recently.”
“Something like that.” I explained my position with WCWC and gave her a copy of my “business sheet”. She dug out a pen and asked for my autograph.
Being tourist-oriented, Kim went out on both morning and afternoon safaris. She told me at one point that she “read” the “spiritual” (vs intellectual) side of my book (tape version), which she borrowed to take to Bandhavgarh to listen to. “Surprisingly good.” I also gave a copy of the tape to CJ, telling him that I give my tape only to highly valued people. “I’m not going to change my mind about you,” I said. Today, he typed his “long poem to Adriane” into my computer.
Faiyaz came back around 19:45, and we (Faiyaz, Jane, CJ, Julian and I) went to Baihar to do several things:
•To order a vehicle to drive CJ to Gondia. Done.
•To phone Raman about the converter – that we need it, so get one in Delhi. We did get through. His response is that we should go and rent a slide projector from Balaghat instead. Even Manohar said this was ridiculous. Are we supposed to rent a projector for a whole month, when all that needrf to be done was for Raman to send me the right projector in the first place? He asked me to call him back tomorrow at 12:30. Forget that. What good would it do? It would just consume my time to get to a phone, and to get the call through, and to disrupt our use of the outreach vehicle when we get one. He also says that in the absence of Avtar he will send Sarita to monitor our progress. This sent me through the roof. WCWC is not sending our hard won CIDA money to Avtar to spend it on monitoring the work of a WCWC campaigner who is doing the work that Avtar himself should be doing. If Avtar wants to use Sarita, fine, send her to Bandhavgarh to do Tiger Fund field work, or send her to monitor himself for non-performance on the WCWC/TF contract.
•To attend to Bullet. Not done. The phone call to Raman, including numerous failed attempts, took up most of the time.
•To visit Jharia. Not done. Same reason.
•To get brick mason and tub and glass and frame. Not done. Same reason.
The last three “Not done”s also illustrate our deflated spirit which was zapped by the insincerity of Avtar and the incompetence of his yes-people in Delhi.
While in Baihar, there was a wedding ceremony going on in the street right where our Gypsy was parked when Manohar went into the phone café to attempt phone connection to Delhi. Well, guess what? We stole their show by just being there. Our Gypsy got surrounded by people, all looking up at us. Even the TV camera was trained on us, not on the wedding party. Jane, being the only woman in the Gypsy, and a white one in Western clothing at that, was slightly discomfited as usual when she finds herself being gawked at, which is about 100% of the time whenever she comes to town. She would not come to town alone.
We did do one thing unplanned. We went to visit Faiyaz’s friend Vijay Chandra, who is the only judge in Baihar, again a very charming young man of no more than 35. Whether or not it was due to his prior knowledge of my being a wildlife conservationist, he put heavy emphasis on wildlife crime. Being himself a man of science, he showed us his thesis, in which he wrote: “Science without law is lame; law without science is blind.” When Faiyaz asked him about the legality of my driving at Kanha, he said that it is illegal to drive with a Canadian license, but, he says, you can always do it “the Indian way” (i.e., to bribe), plus, the penalty for driving without a valid license is only Rs.100, C$4, less than the cost to get a temporary license. I wonder what the penalty against running over somebody while driving without a valid license would be. If it comes to suing somebody in court for damages, how much in rupee terms would they put on an average villager’s life?
After we had alighted from the Gypsy at the parking lot of the lodge, while the others went back to the lodge-proper, I went to the conservation center to retrieve the atlas for a good look at the geography of India, particularly of Madhya Pradesh. When re-entering the parking lot I was struck by the rather surreal scene of not one, not two, not three, not four but five Gypsies crouching there, as if they were something alive, some prehistoric beasts sleeping in a forest glade in the moonlight.
Raminothna took the opportunity to cast me another pearl of her alien logic. “Not as if.”
“I said ‘Not as if.’”
“I still don’t know what you mean.”
“I mean that these Gypsies are really alive.”
“No, they’re not. They are just machines.”
“The machines are themselves alive.”
“I’ll see how you can justify this one. Actually, the notion of cars behaving like animals and even talking like humans is not new. Cartoons have used talking cars for decades. There was even a cartoon I saw when I was a kid depicting aliens perceiving cars as animals and humans as their parasites. But these five Gypsies are not in a cartoon. This is not a cartoon,” I again took in the ghostly moonlight scene. “This is real.”
“Nonetheless, they are alive.”
“Okay, I’ll oblige by putting them through the Eight Vital functions, for your benefit. So, a Gypsy ingests fuel, inhales oxygen, exhales carbon dioxide, reacts to road hazards - if there is a driver - but it does not grow and it certainly does not reproduce. And of course it will not evolve, even if it sits here for a thousand years.”
“How would you compare the total mass of road vehicles in India today to that of a century ago?”
“Total mass? Much greater today than a century ago, obviously.”
“How about the total number of road vehicles?”
“Obviously many times more today than back then.”
“And how would you compare the technology and styling of a road vehicle in India today to those of a road vehicle 100 years ago?”
“Technologically, much more advanced. Styling-wise, almost unrecognizable.”
“Thus, growth, reproduction and evolution. A jeep is not an organism unto itself, but it is alive in the sense that it is an integral part of an organism called India.”
“India is an organism? That’s a staggering thought.”
“Not if you put it in the context of your multileveled structure of life on Earth.”
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
February 25, 1999, Thursday, sunny, 15-28C
[21:06, @ Rm. 111, Kanha Tiger Lodge]
The first thing I did this morning was to write a letter to Avtar, which took me from 08:00 to noon, but well worth it. Then, with Jane, CJ and Kim sitting around me, and everyone else out on safari, I read it aloud to them. They all but cheered at the end.
It started by summarizing what we have been doing, culminating on the conference on March 23, followed by:
“It would of course be greatly beneficial if you could attend and be one of the key speakers. Our Big Cub, too, naturally.
“Now, perhaps you can appreciate my constant need of a slideshow projector here…
“I was also informed that you have plans to send Sarita out here to Kanha to ‘monitor’ the project. With all due respect to Sarita and her demonstrated efficiency, I consider her talents much better used to do aggressive campaigning to open up new awareness territory. As for me, I don’t think that my work needs over-my-shoulder monitoring or point-by-point supervision by one of your employees, not to mention its being done with the grant money that we provide… It is true that I have designed this local project without your input, but it is not for want of trying on my part to contact you…
“Please bear in mind that other than the tiger, the park, the villagers and the government systems, what stands to benefit is also your organization Tiger Fund. If I may be so bold as to suggest, if Sarita really is not needed in Delhi, the way to maximize the use of her considerable talents would be to send her to Bandhavgarh to start a Tiger Fund project there with Darshan. In this way, the tigers as well as villagers in both Kanha and Bandhavgarh will benefit. I can appreciate your need to have proceedings here reported to you by someone loyal and trustworthy, in which case I think Manohar can more than adequately fulfill this role. If there is any monitoring to be done, WCWC should be the one doing the monitoring, not Tiger Fund. I will go as far as to say that to have a monitor before even the existence of a truly full time campaigner is to be top-heavy, to put the cart before the horse and a waste of CIDA money. If I perceive that our conference here needs more help from Delhi, Sarita would be the first person I would ask for. Meanwhile, the best way you can contribute to our project is to send us the required funds…
“Another observation is the lack of support of Tiger Fund activities at Kanha from Delhi. According to CIDA parameters, WCWC’s Southern Partner needs to be a full time, dedicated NGO, not some part time organization subservient to another organization, let alone a commercial enterprise, even one concentrating on tiger-centered ecotourism. This is of particular significance to WCWC since WCWC does not even accept corporate donations as a rule. This means that Tiger Fund must have a full time, dedicated, field officer in charge of a full time, dedicated tiger conservation project, one fully equipped for the task, including a full time vehicle, and one not subject to the needs and wants and manipulations of an external, for-profit entity like Magnificent Tours…
“Finally, I cannot see how Tiger Fund could function meaningfully at Kanha without a 3-4 person full time campaign team, especially after Jane and I have left. Given the low Indian wage structure, it will not translate into a huge or even large expense, but the difference could be the survival or extinction of the Kanha tigers, and Kanha National Park itself.
“I hope that you will forgive me for being so candid with my opinion. I have tried to be as constructive as possible. The fact is that what Tiger Fund does or does not do does impact upon the performance and reputation of WCWC, especially in the eyes of CIDA, and ultimately upon the tiger of whose fate we are all passionately concerned.”
So, the die is cast. The inevitable confrontation is forthcoming. What I’ve wanted to say for a long time has been said. I’ll accept and deal with whatever consequences come my way. And they will.
And then, of course, when I go back to Vancouver, there will be a far greater and more bitter one awaiting me there, in which a small child is at stake, and where I will be fighting with one arm tied behind my back.
Originally I was going to have the letter loaded on to a floppy and taken to some computer place in Baihar to have the letter printed, then faxed to Delhi. But Manohar informed me that their computer format was different and it might not be doable. So, with his help, I had the floppy wrapped in card board and an envelope, and given to CJ to take to Delhi to give to Avtar in person, probably tomorrow night or the morning of the 27th.
In a lull between activities, I said to Raminothna, “I’ve been thinking about your ‘artificial is natural’, ‘machines are alive’ and other alien thoughts. They are challenges to conventional wisdom for sure. But from an objective view point, they do make sense.”
“Nice to know.”
“I’ve been thinking about India as an organism. It would take the Deep Blue computer to quantify everything involved. It’s mind-boggling. But really, it is no more mind-boggling than trying to quantify the human body as an organism. Still, there is no denying it. India is as much a bona fide living organism as a termite mound, or you and me. I’ve done the same with Canada. I even looked at myself and Jane and Kim as body-cells of Canada that have been injected into the body of India, by the mutual consent of both nations. Or should I say national organisms? Right now as we speak, these transplanted Canadian body-cells are working with a native Indian body-cell named Faiyaz. The picture gets a bit complicated as I recalled that I was originally a body cell of China, which was then transplanted into Hong Kong, which eventually transplanted itself into Canada, with permission from Canada of course.”
“Considering what you are here to do, I’d say that you are a socio-biological agent injected into this ailing national organism to fix some of it internal problems. You, in this case, are social medicine.”
“And you, Raminothna, are planetary medicine for our whole ailing Earth.”
[00:49] The second group of panchayat members came at around 14:15. We first showed them the solar devices, then had our meeting in the conservation center, with Kim on the video cam.
Snack of vegetarian food prepared with the solar cooker at 15:45 and into the park by 16:10. At one point, we came across the Gypsy of Richards and a few tourists. Faiyaz called out to them, “Prominent Canadian conservationist driving Indian panchayat leaders!” Richards roared with laughter. I said to the villagers, “I may be a Canadian conservationist, but I’m not even a panchayat member.” They roared with laughter, too.
Half way through the drive, the good times feeling had taken hold of the villagers in the rear deck of the Gypsy. Their stiffness was gone. They had taken to chatting quietly among themselves and with the park guide while pointing at this and that.
Back in the conservation centre, the slideshow visibly moved them. At the end, the most outspoken of them said to Faiyaz, “I cannot find the exact word to praise Mr. Marr, but I have never met anyone like him.” When saying goodbye, he gave me a long and respectful two handed handshake.
Then over to the group of 20 American tourists. Manohar arranged to show the Champions video before dinner, with Richards doing the introduction, and the slideshow after dinner.
Jane and Faiyaz went to Baihar to pay for Bullet. Manohar refused to shell out the Rs.2200, so Jane paid Rs.1500 and Faiyaz the other Rs.700. They came back early enough to catch most of my slideshow. Jane said, “Your presentation gets better every time I hear it.” Well, not exactly every time, but this time, I have to say, is very good, especially given that it was the second in a row.
After the slideshow, I observed that Faiyaz had sunken again into a dispirited state. We retired into Jane’s room to talk. He held his head in his hands and said, “I don’t know what I should do any more.” I asked what the matter was. He dug out a letter he had just brought back from Baihar, which he had shown to Manohar.
Dated: 23 Feb., 1999
Kind Attn: Mr. Manohar Ghami / Kanha Tiger Lodge
From: Avtar Grewal
During the stay of the Tiger’s Kingdom group, instruct Faiyaz to look after the group only. Suggest the Tiger Fund activities should be suspended during the group’s stay.
Also inform Delhi office of what all happened in last couple of days.
I fumed for a moment, then asked Faiyaz to make me a photocopy to bring back to Vancouver to show WCWC, and perhaps to show CIDA as well. CIDA is already questioning TF why all work stops during the monsoon season. Knowing Avtar’s priorities, and given tourism’s being dormant in the monsoon season, we shouldn’t be surprised. In fact, Avtar spends the monsoon season in Vancouver. But of course CIDA doesn’t know this, so it is up to me to show it to them, and I will.
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *