The Prism: A walk on the wild side

Sickular Libtard

Mitali Saran thinks a good asteroid could save our problems.

How far do you have to go to avoid getting splashed by the daily effluent of current affairs? I hauled myself to a national park in Zambia—a place so remote that it took me two days and five successively smaller planes to get there. The last was a 47-year-old Cessna piloted by a lad half its age, who unlocked its car-like door with a car-like key to let us into its four passenger seats, and offered to leave the window open. We landed at an airport comprised entirely of one windsock.

No phone, no data. Yippee!

I was here for a walking safari in the African wilderness. Every morning, as a sun the colour of a taillight reflector came up, we walked silently for hours across a prelapsarian landscape of such beauty, wonder, and natural balance that it took my breath away. We were just some among many creatures, having to maintain a respectful distance and defer to enormous twitchy elephants and the Cape buffalo’s weaponised coif. We watched hyenas stripping a hippo carcass; baby elephants learning how to drink from the river; a leopard with an impala kill; wildebeest stomping and kicking; a lioness hunting for her two cubs; a male lion snoozing under a tree; a crocodile resting submerged in the shallow river beside her egg-filled nest.

In the peak heat of the day, when the animals withdrew to shade, we withdrew to camp for lunch and a rest. We walked for another couple of hours in the golden afternoon light, and returned at sunset to camp beside a moon-washed river.

I have had recurring nightmares about being on foot around lions. If I was wholly unafraid, it was a little bit because, despite incompetence and alienation, my body felt a primal belonging; and a lot because of the armed ranger with us, and because of the skill and judgement of a guide who could, just by crumbling a bit of elephant poo between his fingers, tell you what the elephant’s aunt had said to her elderly cousin four days ago that resulted in some unparliamentary trumpeting and a coldness between them for an afternoon.

There was little place for fear in all the design genius of nature. What mind-bending substance came up with the zebra, or the saddle-billed stork, or the symbiosis of the fig and the fig wasp? Why should the kudu’s horns spiral so elegantly? The hippo is unlovely—but a horse-pig that lives in the river and makes a point of spraying poo with its tail? Pure genius.

This wilderness, red in tooth and claw, as deadly as it is nourishing, is any day more ethical than the urban wilderness that the human homeless must navigate without food, water, or beauty; or the moral wilderness without heart, guts, or mind, to which people exile themselves.

How far do you have to travel before the Home Minister’s anti-Muslim hate speech ceases to reverberate? At how many kilometres distance do you stop seeing BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav’s horribly awkward tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, an op-ed that reads as if he’s holding his nose and stabbing his laptop in the eye? How disconnected do you have to be to ignore how the courts are abdicating their duties? How much distance will defang murder and lies?

Not far, not much. You can stay right here, close your eyes, ears, and mouth, and pretend it isn’t true that India has turned on itself in the most unnatural way of all.

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