Reality Check

First published in Sanctuary Asia, Vol. 35 No. 4, April 2015

By Bittu Sahgal

Most of us go through life without noticing the magical world that so enriches our ephemeral existences. When we drive past open spaces in cities, for instance, our disconnect from nature leads us to believe that what keeps us alive on a hostile planet is human intelligence, cleverness, science and technology.

All of us undoubtedly benefit from human ingenuity, which itself is a gift from nature, but our urban distractions conspire to amputate us from nature, physically, emotionally and intellectually. So much so that we have now begun to believe that we are the very gods we invented. In this altered state, unlike those ‘other’ apes, we imagine we are no longer dependent on nature.

It’s time for a reality check.

Mercifully, I get these on a daily basis! In fact, one of the joys of my life as Sanctuary’s editor of 35-years-standing is being the recipient of other people’s realities… sometimes in the form of still pictures (both pretty and pretty horrific), other times in the shape of moving words (both elevating and depressing).

So… thank you Vishal Modi, for this elevating image of an owl-studded, grassy open space you recently photographed in Navi Mumbai. You and other ornithologists spend priceless moments enjoying the life of the mangrove mudflats, which are home to 25,000 flamingos, plus three-million other waterfowl, and uncounted wild species including the shy, migratory, Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus, visible here only because the bird “holds us with its glittering eye.” 

At Sanctuary we go out in search of reality checks, not just for ourselves, but to share with our network of over a million people, young and old. And what kind of reality check might this Navi Mumbai owl be trying to share with us? Perhaps that in an era of climate change, in a relatively narrow estuarine area, it might be best not to tangle with nature just to please contractors and planners who wish to profit from diverting rivers, hacking mangroves and even building an airport that starts 25 m. below sea level.

After all, King Canute tried to push back the waves long before us. Perhaps it is best we learn from his reality check?


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