Today, I read a news headline about how the world has been brought to a standstill by COVID-19. This type of news headline is not uncommon in times of great calamities, where planet Earth and human beings are used interchangeably, as if these words are synonymous, as if we are the world.
I find myself using these terms interchangeably and bite my tongue as I realize my ignorance stemming from the arrogance of being human, because as grand is the human ego, we are not the world. We are just one species on this magnificently intricate planet and as such we belong to the Earth. The Earth does not belong to us.
Therefore, the world has not come to a standstill because of the novel strain of the Coronavirus, humanity has come to a standstill which is actually a good thing for Mother Earth and our sibling creatures on this planet.
If mother nature adhered to our current definition of aesthetic perfection – largely governed by the rules of symmetry – rivers would flow in perfect straight lines and turn corners at precise right angles, mountains would be pyramids, trees in the forest would be aligned in perfect straight lines like military battalions, where each tree would stand ramrod straight, every branch attached to the trunk at an exact angle of forty-five degrees, every leaf in perfect symmetry. The ones that do not adhere to this rigid perfection would be shed by the tree for its non-conformity.
Nothing out of place. No grey areas. No anomalies. Because anomalies are viewed as irksome, simply because they do not conform with the majority. Such perfection in mother nature would not only be boring in its monotony, but would jeopardize life on this planet because of its unforgiving rigidity.
Have you ever stood by the luggage carousel at the airport, watching baggage flow down the conveyor belt in large intermittent bunches?
Well, if you stood at the international airport in Chennai, you’d see a few hundred people at crowded around a carousel with their eyes fixed longingly at the vertical flaps at the beginning of the conveyor belt waiting for the bags to appear. After an interminable wait, one or at the most two large suitcases would traipse down on the pleated rubber sheets.
After it gets picked up, the empty conveyor belt would do two more rounds before the entire sequence repeats itself at an excruciatingly slow pace. The passengers – several of whom would have flown half way around the world, would have finished their disembarkation process in less than thirty minutes but would have to wait for nearly two hours before they can pick up their bags and leave the airport.
On our trip to India last year, the frustrations of the slow filling baggage carousel at the Madras airport were compounded by trolley complications.
Imagination – The ability of the human mind to visualize/conceive the intangible.
If we had imagination, we would understand that we live on the surface of a giant sphere and not on top of a flat board. The reason Earth appears flat to our vision is because, we are a tiny speck on this planet, which makes us disproportionately small to be able to see the entire size of the giant ball.
Instead of arguing with the scientists, we would be able to verify this fact for ourselves personally, if we were giants towering over the planet, with our head reaching past the atmosphere to be able to see the globe in its entirety. Since we are not, we should probably talk to the tiny ant on top of a basketball, about the shape of the object it stands on, and it would say that the basketball it crawls on, is as flat as a pancake. And of course, we would know that the ant is wrong, because we can see the ball, just the way the astronauts can see our planet from space.
Geography – Terrain and weather that shapes cultures and customs
When I read O’ Henry’s short story, “Soapy”, I could not understand Soapy’s attempts to get imprisoned for the duration of New York’s winter.
At that time, I was living in the tropical part of India, where winters were mild, offering a much needed respite from the oppressive heat of summer. Having lived only in the tropics, where people went to cooler places to escape the brutal heat of summer, I was unable to understand why anyone would want to escape winter.
Several years later, when chance brought me to the east coast of USA, I was able to hold in my hand – the beautiful crystals of snow as they fell in silent showers, painting the world monochrome. What I also came to experience was the merciless cold, as Old Man Winter breathed his icy breath on us during these months.
To those who claim superiority by not consuming non-vegetarian food, I say, there are no true vegans. Even if you wore a patch of leather, you are not a vegetarian, because leather does not grow on trees, neither does honey, nor silk.
That being said, vegetarians slaughter farmed plants for food, while non-vegetarians slaughter farmed animals and plants for food. Good thing too, because imagine if there was no food diversity and everyone ate just fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, there wouldn’t be enough food for the teeming billions, even if we eradicated the entire ecosystem from the face of this planet and turned it all into farms.
When the people of Macondo1 saw an actor die in a movie and reappear as a completely different character in another movie, they decided they, “…would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats.”
But, we are not some primitive people from the fictitious Macondo, we are modern people who live on the, ‘Information Highway’. We know intellectually, that movies are commercial ventures made possible by modern technology, built by a large crew of invisible people with the actors being the only visible part of that venture. We know in our minds that actors are people, who portray scripted characters, as navigated by the director.
These actors are nothing like the fantastic characters they play on the screen. They are ordinary people, just like you and me. Yet, somehow seeing them up-close, smiling at us – not straight at the camera, but at me, the movie-goer – inviting us into their homes, into their lives, into marvelous worlds of fantasy and magic, sharing with us their travails and their triumphs, somehow tug at our heart-strings, making us believe in the impossible, just like when we were little children wishing for magic.
Prejudice – blind hatred of a stranger, based on superficial differences
‘I don’t know you from Adam, and even though you have not harmed me in any way, I hate you, I hate you so much.
‘When things go wrong in my life for reasons I cannot fathom, I blame you for that. And there are other times, when a little soul searching and self-introspection can explain the reasons for the bad choices I make, but instead of taking the opportunity to become a better person, I hate you viscerally.
‘And if you think that I will credit you for the things that go right in my life, you are stupider than I thought you were. All that credit belongs solely to me, only me. And if you think that I act like a petulant child, why not? When this hatred of “different” people is sanctioned by my own family and endorsed by the society either explicitly or implicitly.
In conversations with friends and family over a period of time, I have come to understand that there is a tendency to distort or stretch the truth. Such alterations make for interesting anecdotes and lively conversation. But, when it comes to regular interaction with people in daily life, staying close to reality keeps life’s flow relatively smooth.
Over the years after listening to numerous personal stories, I realized separating the husk from the grain can be really hard. I also realized that I don’t have to know the absolute truth about everything to have healthy relationships. All I need is a credible approximation of the broad reality. To ascertain this, all I need to do is to discount certain parts of the issues presented, according to the individual’s nature and character.
This is my current formula to get to the heart of the matter:
At first I take all things said in a conversation at face value. No assumptions, no presumptions unless the context is obvious or common in social parlance. In time, a pattern would emerge and some lack of consistency would begin to show, in the continuity of the narratives. Depending on the degree of this inconsistency, I assign discounts to the information presented to me.