It goes without saying that our ancients thought of animals, as also ecology, as something distinctive: to feel part of, love and revere, and not insatiably exploit. Their profound respect for all living beings was founded on simple logic, not any fixed doctrine. What’s more, they directed their energies to maintain that delicate, natural balance.
The trouble in our troubled-world today is our dogged misconception about the natural world, especially its animal inhabitants. Add to this ecological (im)balance, and there emerges a new perspective — the ‘unsteady’ state of nature.
Venkatesh Govindarajan’s anthology of poems ‘We Came Before You and Other Poems’ — 31 in all, with subject illustrations by the author — details the idea of natural sustainability and its scientific basis. It highlights the equation that gave rise to the growth of a given population under constant conditions, starting with a small number of organisms and multiplying to a higher limit. It recounts how human greed has led to a gloomy case of a paradise lost, including the slipping fortunes of certain animals, which are yet to rebound to their ‘pre-crash’ levels, following human intervention. Questions — for example, ‘what do we hope to protect?’ or ‘what is nature per se?’ — as Govindarajan puts it — are but paradoxes of animal as also human (co)existence.
The author’s analysis of this woeful, alarming crisis is simple, also insightful — no matter how ‘green’ our thumb, or technological advantage, the Homo sapiens cannot ‘rejig’ animal life, yet they can destroy it at the drop of a thought, thanks to excessive greed, selfishness, insensitivity, and so on. He argues that the best thing each of us could do is manage and usher in the recurrence of desirable, natural conditions — this isn’t, of course, easy, but isn’t impossible too.
Govindarajan’s poems speak of our changing thought process, the environment, the (re)cycling of chemical elements, the distribution of species and ecological communities and the rate of extinction of certain species. His ‘verse-like-stories,’ with a meaningful message highlight the pressing need for us to reject the possibility of inconstancy on planet earth. Placed in summary, Govindarajan’s bottom line is: our ecosystem is a complex, dynamic network, composed of a vast spectrum of interdependent organisms. If one element changes its position, even marginally, the whole system could go awry.
To ‘cull’ one poem, “Sow and reap:”
I eat and eat and get plumper,
Food is all I can think about.
My mother did that, and so did hers,
And both surely were very stout.
Ham or bacon is my end of life,
I eat and make merry as much as I can,
For those that devour me also do so,
Modern woman, or educated man.
I cannot change, God made me so,
I eat so that I may be eaten.
But man who eats, drinks and makes merry,
Surely has some better option?
Well, well, I am just wasting my time,
It is time now for a hearty meal.
The look, the smell and the taste,
To all my senses, endlessly appeal.
Govindarajan’s poems also contend that man lives in nature and culture at the same time. Yet, one cannot, as he explains, generalise the context and say that ‘nature is culture.’ His summation, in the process, implies that change today is more than a tad uneasy compared to the frequency and gradation of change in the past. Animal population, he explains, should and need not be changed; it has to be managed to be sizable enough to minimise the chances of extinction. This, in other words, corresponds to managing change for the return of appropriate conditions — a prerequisite that depends on nature’s regenerative capacity and human co-operation, not intervention, in the natural world and upholding the letter and spirit towards maintaining such a capability for nature, with all life in it, to flourish.