Monday Musings: The land belongs to the snakes.
Some books become alive to us in unimaginable ways. I have been reading ‘Sapiens’ the fantastic book by Yuval Harari. The book is an amazing story of how we have come about to be what we are – an amazing amalgamation of science and history written almost like a novel. A strong recommendation to the connoisseur of the written word.
The book talks about the transition of Sapiens from hunter gatherers to agriculturists and how that changed so much about us. I cannot go into the details of this for the want of space and expertise but suffice it to say, that is was not only momentous but also fascinating. Our relationship with nature changed forever – from being afraid of it to becoming subjugators. Our relationships with fellow animals also changed from being respectful to being exploiters. This transition to most of us will be an academic point – fascinating at best and boring at worst. Most of us have no memories or experiences of either being hunter gatherers or agriculturists and hence this point serves nothing more than being of academic interest (if at all).
I have been going through the book mostly with a similar frame of reference. I had a surprise waiting for me though.
First a little background. I grew up and continue to have roots in the tribal district of Jharkhand – where in pockets at least the tribal worldview is available for experiences. Incidentally the specific area where I grew up and my parents continue to live has a strong native tribal population who may have modernised themselves in many ways but do retain their native traditions. My family has been living in close proximity to them for three generations and as is the nature of these things, the influences are hard to avoid.
Let me come to the story now. In the small piece of land that my family owns is a colony of snakes for the longest time we know – which is about 50 years if not more. I grew up knowing and seeing this colony less than 30 feet from our rooms within the compound we call our home. The presence of this colony has been a part of us and frankly till now it never occurred to me as unusual. The snakes have changed the location of their colony only twice in my memory but never left the space. Every once in a while a few of them stray into our homes particularly during summers and are ushered out with due respect. Never once was this close proximity considered unnatural, unusual or interfering. The word cohabitation has been in full display. Women in my family dutifully revere them, pray to them once in a year for the last three generations. These days that tradition has been shouldered by my mother as was done by my grand mom before her and my great grand mom before that. The chant of the annual prayer can be roughly translated as – ‘Be with us, bless us, keep coming, keep going but please do not interfere’’. The relationship of mutual respect with nature has been in full display in my backyard and I never took notice of this.
Now to the twist in the tale. A few days back I made the point to my mom that we should get rid of this colony of snakes to make the small piece of land more accessible for growing something. All hell broke loose. I had not anticipated the backlash to what according to her was a preposterous and a sinful idea. The argument against my proposal was not encased in religious terms but in terms of ‘equal rights of animals’ to live on the land that has housed them for half a century. ‘What do they demand of you but the small space?’ – exclaimed she.
Very soon the tone changed from ‘this should not be done’ to ‘over my dead body’ to finally the ultimatum ‘dare not do it even when I am dead’. Now when a mother uses these three tracks, you can imagine how utterly unarguable the debate becomes.
Harari’s narrative of the respect for other forms of life sapiens had during the hunter gatherer times came alive to me. I was taken aback by the strength of the opposition to my idea. I cannot get over the pushback – its tone and strength together. I keep asking myself the following questions. What is my stance on the subject of the right of other species on earth? Does that land only belong only to me or are the snake’s equal owners? When push will come to shove will I respect my mother’s wishes? When push will come to shove will I respect the snakes inheritances and rights?
Right now from the highrise where i live these are academic questions – but for how long!!