Monday, February 25, 2013


After writing about all the things I have seen and done here since my arrival, I wondered what being here really meant to me. Its easy to write about hard luck stories, they are the literary equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. But, in reality, what is the point in all of this?

This thought occupied me greatly whilst padding around my room, for the first time in my 8 years of coming, able to enjoy the luxuries a single ringed induction cooker offered - the ability to boil vegetables and, with the wonderful sachets of spices here, cook a half decent curry. I had just finished watching Africa by David Attenborough the last episode of which I had downloaded before the trip out and which had moved me to tears. The sight of this brilliant, empassioned, octogenarian naturalist, who has spent his life bringing the wonders of the natural world right inside our homes, mewling softly on his hands and knees to engage with a blind baby rhinoceros, forcefully illustrated both how amazingly powerful and yet futile humans are. We are agents of devastation and awesome change, but at the same time, to think that this is so feels like an enormous arrogance. The horrors of climate change seem both inevitably and impossibly to be caused by humans. Humans whizz around doing 'stuff' - both good & bad and the world spins on - rocks shifting, waters rising and falling - our eventual destiny surely completely unknowable. Sometimes it seems we influence everything and other times, nothing.

Given that rhinos do not reach their full maturity until they are about 10 years old, David Attenborough will be long gone by the time that baby has lived a full life & reached the potential hoped for by the wildlife team; he will never know whether he was a successful adult siring a whole new generation of black rhinos helping bring his species away from the edge of extinction. Watching someone towards the end of his life see, brutally, how much there is, will always be to do - no less than when he was hacking his way through the tropical forests with a black & white film crew makes me wonder whether there any point in doing anything at all, since the work is never done.

Being here reinforces that sense of powerful futility. I spend half my time here feeling pleased at the effects the work is having on the local community, then I take a step back and see the drop-in-the-ocean-perspective which makes everything feel pointless. Finding a middle ground especially here, in India, a place of such extremes, is difficult; the human brain can find it hard to bridge these two spectrum-ending perspectives; we are binary by nature with our paired limbs and symmetrical bodies - on the one hand this, on the other that. We must either be useful or useless. Yet, reassuringly, a single grain of rice feeds no-one and no-one expects it to. It is not big institutions which make the differences, it is the accumulation of relationships. No-one has the "answer" there is no "answer", we are all simply part of an iterative process, some things we will do better and others we will do worse: influencing what we can, learning from mistakes, striving to improve and, crucially, enjoying ourselves. Meantime, the world turns until it stops. Then and only then do we need to search for progress no further. I guess at that point we simply say "Bugger" and accept our fate. Until then: Anything possible, Madam.


Sally Whittingham said...

Very interested indeed to read these reflections of yours Arabella. You are brave to visit alone as you do- I've always had companions with whom to reflect and mull over the welter of experiences one is subject to on any one day in village India. Do you know the expression, attributed to Confucious, ' It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness'? My friend Pam was lamenting a sad story of bright girls unable to stay st school

Sally Whittingham said...

Unable to stay on because their father had died. I quoted that saying to Pam, who was despairing of not being able to help one fraction of the need she kept encountering, and out of that came our 'One candle fund' which gave small bursaries to several hundred village children to enable them to stay on at school.