The return to innocence

Prerna Bindra | Updated on April 10, 2020

Time stands still: In frenzied pre-Covid-19 days, would we have paused to pay heed to the Oriental garden lizard?   -  ABHISHEK GULSHAN

Nature is not exacting revenge on humankind for wrongdoings — it is simply carrying on with the business of life

Oh Deer! Truly a party time for wildlife, chirps a tweet, accompanying a photograph that shows a herd of deer lounging in the middle of an uncharacteristically empty Ooty-Coimbatore road. Social media is flooded with such news of wildlife taking over urban areas as humans stay quarantined in nationwide lockdowns to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. They show dolphins swimming in the Venetian canals otherwise swamped by tourists, a Malabar civet out for a stroll in the surprisingly deserted streets of Kozhikode and an endearing picture of elephants passed out in a tea garden after, apparently, having drunk corn wine in a village in Yunnan, China.

It’s too good to be true, though.

The Sika deer, in a picture shot in 2004, are not gracing the highway that connects Ooty to Coimbatore, but are in Japan’s Nara Park. The dolphins didn’t visit Venice; the film clip was shot at a port in Sardinia, in the Mediterranean Sea. It wasn’t a Malabar civet — so rare an animal that no published proof or photograph exists — but the fairly common Small Indian civet, which could be spotted in rural and urban areas pre-virus too.

And those elephants? We don’t know where — and if — they imbibed liquor but a Chinese news report debunked the posts.

The inaccuracy is common knowledge, but the fake clips are still going viral. The civet clip for instance, had over 1.6 million views. Why? A recent article in National Geographic puts it down to our “greed for virality”, our constant craving for instant gratification and popularity, easily provided through likes and retweets on social media.

But in the wildness of our imagination I see hope.

Is it that, confronted with a bleak world, we find primeval joy in seeing the beauty of nature among us? Are we drawn to the excitement, the novelty of a peacock’s flamboyant dance or the grace of a deer on city roads otherwise populated by vehicles? Now that time has slowed, is that we see, hear and sense all that we didn’t earlier? In frenzied pre-Covid-19 days, would we have noticed the dazzling blue of the white-throated kingfisher on a wire strung a few feet from our home? Would we have paused to pay heed to the Oriental garden lizard as its crested head rapidly changed hue from a dull brown to a scarlet red (as it might in heightened excitement during breeding season, which would be starting in April).

Time stands still: In frenzied pre-Covid-19 days, would we have paused to pay heed to the Oriental garden lizard?   -  ABHISHEK GULSHAN


There is solace to be had in the nature, and the freedom, of wild beings.

During his many stints in various prisons, Jawaharlal Nehru famously drew comfort from nature — from the parakeets that lived in the crevices of Naini jail in Allahabad, “the fierce quarrels of two male birds over a lady parrot who sat calmly waiting for the result” to the reddish-brown hues of fresh mango leaves that reminded him of his beloved mountains of Kashmir in autumn.

Isolated for an indeterminate period, our only contact apart from the virtual might be with that bird by the window. Trapped in our gilded cages, will we observe and appreciate nature, open our hearts to a sense of wonder? With the city falling silent we can hear the music of birdsong. Every afternoon, for the past week or two, I have heard the plaintive duet of the koel as it heralds summer. A delighted friend from Bengaluru messaged that he is hearing the hoot of mottled wood owls now that the din of traffic is muted.

There is comfort in watching the industry of the wasps as they build architectural marvels out of mud and in observing the unfurling of young champa leaves as spring makes way for summer. Regardless of the storms that rage outside, and within us, life goes on.

Nature is not taking its revenge on humankind for wrongdoings — it is simply carrying on with the business of life. As we might, too, perhaps in a more compassionate and enlightened fashion, once we emerge from this crisis.

There is some truth in nature’s ‘revival’. Our withdrawal has had positive effects. With no traffic and most industries and factories shut, the air quality has soared unhindered by toxic smog and the skies are a brilliant blue. The lockdown has achieved what successive governments and billions of rupees couldn’t — improved water quality in the Ganga and the Yamuna.

What would the world be without us? To get an idea, consider Chernobyl, the site of what was possibly the deadliest nuclear accident in the world. No human has set foot since 1986. Today, almost 35 years later, various studies have spotted rare and endangered wildlife — bears, bison, beavers, wolves and others — in a site, high on radiation, away from the malignant influence of humans.

It is a time to reflect on our relationship with nature. The novel coronavirus is an effect of natural habitat and biodiversity destruction, it is nature’s message that humans are not all-powerful — all it takes is a microbe to bring humanity to its knees. It is a lesson in humility, and a reminder to connect with nature.

In India, we are fortunate as most of our cities have thriving biodiversity — Delhi is one of the most bird-rich cities in the world, Chennai has spotted deer living in its heart, and leopards thrive in and around Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

We only need to open our eyes, and to preserve our sense of wonder for the natural world, to cherish it as our strongest ally in an increasingly uncertain, chaotic and scary world.

Prerna Bindra is a wildlife conservationist and writer

Published on April 10, 2020

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