Thursday, June 17, 2010

A CALL OF NATURE

So where did we drop off last week? Ah, the business end of the call of nature. And as far as calls of nature go, this one’s far messier and a trifle poignant, an emotion you’d struggle to associate with the popular euphemism. Unless of course, someone happened to have swallowed one’s wedding solitaire at dinner the previous night. We were talking about the call of the hunt…

Last week’s farm-stay with Keith and Carolyn, as sweet and hospitable a couple as you could ever hope to meet, dug up an old debate in my mind – the ethics of a good hunt. Dear reader, if by some unfortunate circumstance, you happen to have read some of the pieces that appeared previously on this page, you might be aware of my crusade for vegetarianism, both with the world at large and my own flesh-starved (pun unintended) soul. And while I believe that being vegetarian is an ethical idea to aspire for in our spoilt-for-choice world of today, I would be so naïve as to deny the debt we owe to our hunter gatherer ancestors whose hunting abilities lay the foundation of our various physical abilities… Like binocular vision for instance, just as good for cruising at a 100kmph today as it was for judging how hard to throw a spear at our prey thousands of years ago. Or our large brains that found space to grow once we stopped needing the big strong jaw muscles for chewing stringy plant matter like gorillas and our vegetarian ancestors… So we undeniably owe the shape of our selves and our civilisation to our hunter-ancestors.

So the fact that hunting was imperative for an evolutionary paradigm shift is undeniable. And for the sake of argument, let’s not bring in the ethics of vegetarianism and restrict the debate to the justification of killing an animal for the sake of tradition, sport or pleasure. Which means the debate, for the moment, exonerates those who live in inhospitable climes and depend on hunting, even today, for fulfilling their need for protein...

But in the rest of the world, with freezers and stores brimming with everything from the ubiquitous chicken’s legs to the exotic kangaroo’s testicles, for the majority of us, there’s no real pressing need to go hunting. And yet every autumn Keith and his kind huff and puff their way in their bright red hunting jackets and give chase to the fox. Closer home, around the same time, Vishal, a friend and a former colleague who claims to stand at shaky end of a dead branch of royalty, rushes back to estate in south-eastern Rajasthan where he joins his cousins. Together they oil their rusty old jeep, the crusty Winchester rifles and their trusty old and blind local administration before setting off into the fields and forests in search of wild pigs and partridges. Now these are good gentle folk who love dogs and horses and can appreciate nature, and yet they find joy in killing... I can’t fathom it.

These are not people who are easy to hate... These are not seedy poachers who kill for greed, nor desperate men who kill to feed the fire in their stomachs, for if they don’t, it’ll consume them instead. No, these are people who kill for pride, as if honouring a rite of passage that proclaims their courage to the world and reaffirms their belief in their own powers. Perhaps that is why even kings seemed to bury their insecurities in the thrill of a hunt

If you ask them why, they’ll say “oh, we have too many foxes, too many pigs, too many deer and we only help control numbers and help the farmer by hunting”. Truth is, hunting with a gun always destroys too little or too much and always affects the balance of nature. The only way to hunt naturally is hunt the way cavemen did: by giving chase. That’s the only way to weed out the weak the way nature kills. Trophy hunting or hunting for the pot brings down the biggest, the healthiest and the best... The very animal that nature would seek to protect. At this point I’m reminded of my childhood… I was always kind to every animal but because I was told that it’s ok to kill cockroaches, I seemed to enjoy killing the hapless insects. Now it seems to me that there was this Hyde inside me even as a child and my parents’ sanction with respect to cockroaches brought him out in a manner that still horrifies me. Perhaps it is that same Hyde that emerges out of normal and kind human beings during a riot or raids in the old days where it was okay to loot homes, kill the weak and rape their women because someone said that they deserved it… As if we needn’t feel guilty about our lustful crimes even though we might know them to be crimes just as long as someone else takes the moral responsibility of saying “It’s ok”.

Perhaps it is Hyde, perhaps it’s a misplaced sense of justice, but more than that, I know it is joy... Perhaps you know these people who go hunting... Perhaps you are one such. And I know that you have your Hyde under control, that you are kind and good and yet you love to hunt... And I think I get it now... You hunt for the sheer joy of it. Not the joy of spilling blood, but the joy of being in the lap of nature, stalking, chasing and matching wit and might against the elements. It is that which gives you the greatest joy. Perhaps that is why hobby-hunters are amongst the most avid conservationists in history.

As a hunter who knows his history, you will remind us that India owes its last lions to Lord Curzon who, while on a lion-hunt, urged the Nawab of Junagadh to protect the remaining lions. And nor can we forget that two of our national parks owe their existence to two ace hunters - Jim Corbett for the Jim Corbett National Park and Billy Arjan Singh for Dudhwa National Park. Having said that, you don’t really need to run the gauntlet of the law or your conscience every time you want to match wits and might in the lap of nature for the sheer joy of it. Just exchange your gun for a camera. A good wildlife photograph is not only far more beautiful and ‘alive’ but requires far greater skill and courage. Just walk into a forest with a camera in your hand instead of a gun and try creeping close to a herd of elephants breaking branches with a snap… Your heart will beat faster than it ever has and you’ll know you’re more alive than you’d ever been before. Hunting pictures give greater joy than hunting an animal ever could. I say it. The great Corbett said it, but this autumn, Keith, Vishal and all the others… Don’t take our word for it. Just drop the gun, pick up a camera and give that kind little heart of yours a chance to truly beat…

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