My first experience of the wonders of the undersea world was a short diving holiday spent in the Andaman Islands. Mask and snorkel in tow, I entered a cocoon of swaying, ever-moving creatures whose continued study will probably reveal the hidden secrets of our own fragile origins.
The huge purple-lipped clam, opening and shutting its gape to filter food from the sea had a lineage that dated back 500 million years, when calcium carbonate was probably first fashioned into the bony protective material we now call a shell. The fist-sized octopus that stared back at me with its incredibly huge eyes was anchored on a piece of coral whose colours it had taken on, like an underwater chameleon.
The polyps of the coral city I gazed at in unconditional admiration comprised tens of thousands of creatures from virtually every known phyla. How did they manage to live in such deadly competition with each other, while still managing somehow to cooperate enough to live an ordered community life? Virtually, the sole purpose of science is to understand the natural processes of the earth and its environment. What is done with such science, of course, is a matter of individual choice. Some such as Hitler decided to use humans as guinea pigs to conduct the kind of experiments on Jews that geneticists are probably secretly performing even today. Others such as Darwin chose to use the ultimate scientific tool, the human mind, to work his way through the maze of possibilities to arrive at the most plausible way in which life on earth originated. For centuries in India, the scientific temper has been encouraged and has, in fact, been equated with philosophy as a pursuit of great worth and respect. We did indeed gift the world the zero. And we did cast steel that did not rust, long years before the rest of the world even considered such a quest desirable. Our art and culture reflects this penchant for discovery and even the Vedas still serve as a guide for those seeking to find meaning and balance in life.
Consider the earth. If extraterrestrial life-forms were to examine it, they might be justified in concluding that it was one structure. Everything on earth seems to mesh together, yet if Darwin were to be believed, it is really an evolving combination of life-forms developing in the manner of an embryo. Every single day, new species are being formed and others die in a symphony of such extraordinary complexity that science has only been able to nibble at the edges of its truth.
As some people conspire to destroy this exquisite home that we have borrowed from the next generation, through schemes that seek to link rivers, mine rainforests, poison soils, cause wild animals to go extinct and displace vast millions of less powerful humans – all in the name of benefiting our children – the thought occurs to me: “Forgive them. For they know not what they do.”
Editor of Sanctuary Asia magazine