By Geethanjali Monto. Photos by Monto Mani
I believe some of us are attracted to Nature because we resonate with some qualities in Nature – those that we seem to have lost in the process of evolution into intellectuals or in combating our own internal turmoil or in conflicts arising from dealing with people who try to control who we are or in the mundane everyday chores that seem necessary to sustain our physical bodies and our social lives. There are some moments in time when we suddenly become aware of the song of a bird, of clouds moving across the sky, of an eagle soaring or being blown by a particularly strong wind, of the silence. These are moments when we are free and open to receive, moments that connect us to Nature and to ourselves.
The following photographs were taken (by Monto) during our car drive in the surrounds of the Skukuza Rest Camp, Kruger National Park, South Africa in May 2015. The spontaneous expressions and playful behaviour of these animals seem rare in human adults, and we seem to smother impulsive, instinctive and natural tendencies in young children in order to conform to the standards set by society.
A normal human adult sitting like this baboon – simply sitting – may be labelled as being depressed, that something is not ‘alright’ — may be a ‘love failure’, or perhaps he has taxed his mind too much! This act of simply sitting has been suggested as one of the practices to be followed to aid one’s spiritual journey. The sitting meditation – only the mentally stable ones do it well.
The expressions on the faces of some of the birds and animals seemed as though they were far away, in a world of their own, untouched by petty concerns. Their eyes were filled with a mystical look, and their postures with a noble elegance and a humble confidence.
There is calmness in the way they carry themselves – whether they are eating, drinking, walking, flying or communicating – of being totally immersed in what they do, of being in the present moment.
And a delicate balance of life exists…
I do not know much about the history of national parks or the exact motivations of some humans who threaten the survival of species especially other than their own, of some who seek to preserve life, and others who are caught in between with conflicting interests. During our stay at Skukuza, we wondered whether in the name of conservation of threatened species, and as a source of revenue to ‘provide a good environment for’ them, humans are exploiting others to satisfy their selfish desires: charging people high for stay, food, memorabilia, car hire and safaris; organizing events that basically promote tourism; and disturbing Nature with air, sound and water pollution; intruding in their private lives by photographing personal moments between mothers and babies, between couples; threatening their existence (we found turkeys run over by speeding cars)?
If the elephant we met at the park were to think about this, would his thoughts go something like this?
‘I wonder why humans come in search of me in the wild scorching heat of Africa. They sit in their cars watching as I have my food, hoping I would look at them and come their way. And when I do come their way, they rush off saying that I am charging; and if I am a single male charging at them, I am dangerous and exciting! They are most happy if I am with a large herd or if I am alone; smaller numbers don’t seem to please them as much. My baby attracts them with her antics, perhaps reminding them of the child within and of the joy of living?’
And if the lion we sighted during an early morning safari put his thoughts about us into words?
‘They planned for months. They hopped four flights. They came to Africa − to Kruger − to see me… They rented a car. They drove from sunrise to sunset. They combed the forest. They bore heat and cold. Giraffes, hippos, rhinos, hyenas, vultures, elephants, zebras, wildebeest, buffaloes, eagles, deer, crocodiles, the stately secretary bird and Obelix’s wild boars − could not fill the space reserved for me. A night safari offered a sight of an old lion, so feeble, that they wondered if he was planted there by the tour operators, who had lured him with the food that he was too weak to hunt. The next day’s early morning safari presented a glimpse of four male lions (including myself). We had just finished our meal, and were not bothered much about the proximity of the jeep.
They came – they saw me – they were happy – they will go away.
Now that their search has come to an end, will their fascination with me fade away? Will I no longer feature that much in their dreams and in their talk?
Will I cease to matter now?’
Geethanjali Monto has studied civil engineering and mass communication, and worked last as a science writing fellow in Current Science – Bangalore. She likes to read and write.
Monto Mani is an Architect and Civil Engineer, presently working as Associate Professor at the Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He likes to photograph, cycle and work with his hands.