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Biodiversity's Magical splendour

Last month, thousands of people, who included scientists, policymakers and other experts, gathered in Hyderabad from all over the world for special event hosted by Ministry of Environment and Forests. It was the United Nations Eleventh conference of parties (cop 11) for the convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) part of a global effort to strategize the protection of our planet's flora, fauna and its ecosystems.

"There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew."-Marshall McLuhan, Canadian philosopher

So let's try to understand biodiversity. Nature has inspired poetry, art, literature, religion, music, dance and even philosophy. Yet, nature, the fount of virtually all human inspiration, the source of all life, finds itself under relentless attack from its prodigal son Homo sapiens.

Biodiversity's Magical splendour

Following the discourse at the Hyderabad conference, I recalled the day not long ago when I sat in splendid silence as the sun began to dip over the horizon and the moan of tigress calling floated across the kachida valley in the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. Her haunting call was answered from across the river by sharper cries...her two cubs. Minutes later, the little ones ambled down the slop to join their mother, who had walked purposefully towards them. Their reunion was joy to behold - involving nuzzling and excited mewling, with the five month old clambering all over their mother.

We were happy to be here in the company of tigers and every sound was music to our ears the red wattled lapwing, the sambar that bellowed its alarm at the sight of tigers occupying the water source they were gingerly headed towards, the crickets that had just begun their nocturnal orchestra and of course, the frogs that seemed magically to know that the weather gods were about to bestow their blessings upon them.

Pulling out our rainwear at the sound of distant thunder, I thought to myself how, outside Ranthambhore, at this very moment events continued to unfold for humans... with boring predictability. Politics, business, sports, crime and films dominate every living moment. We have become distanced from nature. We're uncomfortable with silences.

For me, the act of waiting, quietly, with no purpose in mind apart from being an observer of tiger rituals that had played themselves out for thousands of year, is the high life. Nothing can top that.

When you enter nature's domain, really enter it by scuba diving, or walking in a rainforest, or trekking high up in the Himalayas, or, perhaps walking in a desert... humility is injected into you, without your ego being bruised, because you know you are not in competition with nature. This is one emotion that all humans must experience.

Till such nature induced humility pervades, you are unlikely to have any real respect for biodiversity, which has become a catchword that many use without understanding that biodiversity encompasses everything. This includes your houseplants, the fly on your wall, the spider lying in wait for that fly  and, yes, the tigress in Ranthanmbhore calling to her cubs, who depend for their survival on biodiversity as represented by the bacteria in their soils, the ameba in their gut, the ticks on their backs and the kingfisher that cheekily dives for fish from the waterholes where tigers cool off in the summer.

Would the text from the Hyderabad pledge announced by the prime minister at the end of COP 11, offering $50 million for biodiversity, have actually afforded the tiger real security? It does not: ten times that amount has been budgeted by his office on stripping tiger habitats and other forests for coal, minerals and more. Nor will the fisher folk he pledged to protect be much safer for his nuclear reactors and chemical complexes. Ans coastal projects will empty, not fill their nets.

Biodiversity, India's leadership must acknowledge, is not just the spice of life... it is life itself, without which neither the planet, nor its many constituents, including humans, can survive. And being the crew of Spaceship Earth, the joystick in your hands.