For the next 5 weeks, I will be publishing the essays that I write in Write of Passage. WOP is an online writing course, where you learn how to share your ideas on the internet and find your people. It helps you grow your personal monopoly online!
So stay tuned for some interesting articles!
“Ishan, you need to be more careful with your life!”.
His thunderous voice washed over me like a boxing blow to the face. There he was, standing a few steps ahead of me, berating me with an anger that would have left Gordon Ramsey shocked. His message was clear—the wildlife around our hostels was not to be interacted with.
A few minutes ago, I saw a wild boar herd strolling past my window. These animals are incredibly elusive, and seeing them during the day was a one-time miracle. I knew I had to make the most of the opportunity. Armed with a flimsy stick and incessant curiosity, I ran after them.
My boarding school was in the middle of a jungle, with the closest hint of civilization 20km away. So naturally, we lived with a host of wildlife. My noisy neighbours were hoards of wild boar, scores of eagles and several species of snakes. Surprisingly, the school had a good track record of no student getting hurt at the behest of local wildlife.
I broke all these records.
My teacher’s expression was livid when he heard that I had walked right into an entire herd of wild boars. There, in that moment, he asked me a question I’d been facing my entire life.
“Ishan, why do you keep risking your life in pursuit of wildlife?”.
Throughout my years, I’ve found myself staring this question in the face. It came up when a snake decided to chomp on my finger, when an elephant chased me up a hill, and when a murder of crows tried to peck me to death. Wherever I go, this question follows.
Now nature has been inspiring humanity since time immemorial. Take language for instance. We wolf down our favourite meals, and we chicken out of affairs. We fish for ideas, and we monkey around with friends. Our lexicon is riddled with visions from the natural world.
Today, however, these creatures remain shrouded in mystery. A pitiful few study their behaviour, leaving us in the unknown. Movies and other media portray them as savage creatures (watched Jaws or Anaconda?). The message is clear: Stay away from them.
Yet, some of us find it hard to accept that which we have not experienced for ourselves. We pass “DO NOT ENTER” signages on doors and cannot help but march inside. Filled with a persistent curiosity, we simply MUST KNOW.
It is said that it is your choices that reveal the kind of person you are. By telling our stories, we discover our desires. I’ve known no greater feeling than staring into an animal’s eyes. Every time I do, I’m overwhelmed, full of the love that has blessed our souls. It is a passion that has only grown with the years, resisting the ravages of time.
So when posed with this question, I answer in a voice as brave as I can muster, “Because I cannot stop!”.
My love for wildlife is my act of defiance. It is me resisting the pressure to confine myself to a socially mandated passion. I have a fear of a phantom cubicle chasing me, striving to jail me in a desk job. Some can thrive without wild things and some cannot. I certainly cannot.
Being in the wild puts my senses into overdrive. The dry leaves under my feet, the crisp jungle air in my lungs and the bright sunlight on my face move me in many unseen ways. The sights, smells, sounds—all are hugely evocative for me. It is an awakening of our most ancient instincts, teaching me more than some shoddy textbook ever could.
There is intense clarity gained through retrospection. Looking back, these adventures kept me alive during the hollow drudgery of high school. It served as an escape from the solipsism of the present. They kindled emotions beyond comprehension, writing themselves into the wet cement of my memory.
What began as a staring contest with a tiger has snowballed into an inexplicable drive to become wild. Compulsions no longer hold my desires hostage. I want to be one among the elephants. I want to be one with snakes. I want to be one with the trees. I want these things.
I suppose I’ll never be able to give you a satisfactory answer. I won’t be able to convince you to go running after wildlife. But maybe, just maybe, I could show you how much I love them. Perhaps, in my search for meaning, you might find yours.
There is a beautiful depth to vulnerability, one that I bathe in all too often. Therapists are right on the money when they say to lean into your emotions. Mine lies in the depths of the waking forest. For in those depths, animals await.
If it came down to it, I’d go back to my teacher and tell him, “There is no greater thrill than pursuing the unknown, no higher calling than immersing yourself in the wild. Cradled at its core is the desire to find yourself. It is a work of art beyond our imagination.”.
What a wonderful time to be alive.
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