As we emerge from a severe winter in Kashmir, we move into yet another symbolic winter in the middle of April, with an invisible enemy threatening to turn us cold. Such a so-called spring was long ago described by Eliot in his poem ‘The Waste Land’ as:
‘April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain’
The past, like a sea of faith, is pointing to a future where our confidence in our civilisation has been shattered. Our power over nature stands diminished and all that the modern world has stood for seems to be down on its knees before an invisible virus. Covid-19 is karma at play. It’s a reminder to humans to reflect on the nature of existence. Human beings have, for long, taken for granted their superiority of nature. To deceive our own selves, we turn into conspiracy theorists to blame others and absolve ourselves. But now there’s a sense of collapse, of fear and fatigue, among humans around the world, while nature is renewing itself. Outside our houses are the untarnished joys of spring in nature, but inside our homes we seem to be poised on the edge of a grim destruction.
Corona is a reset button on a lot of things. It’s teaching us that coexistence is not only inside our homes and cities but also with other living beings. Dolphins have returned to Italy’s coast, thanks to missing crew ships. Swans have returned to Venice’s canals that otherwise are populated with gondolas and tourists. In Singapore, birds are roaming freely perhaps for the first time. Egypt’s famed geese have returned to cities and strut about on the roads.
Humans have taken over the earth so savagely that they have destroyed habitats, killed hundreds of species, plundered resources and exploited every natural bounty. The coronavirus is a reminder that humans do not own the planet but only share it with many other living beings. Our lives are as much about cohabitation as about survival of the fittest. Perhaps Covid-19 is just one of the examples of how nature’s restoration mechanisms work.
Scientific evidence has shown that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was the result of forest losses, which led to closer contact between wildlife and human settlements. The emergence of avian influenza was linked to intensive poultry farming. The Nipah virus was linked to the intensification of pig farming and fruit production in Malaysia. Nature is in crisis, its biodiversity and habitat threatened, heated, and toxically polluted. Protecting ourselves against diseases like Covid-19 requires sound management of hazardous medical and chemical waste, strong and global stewardship of nature and biodiversity, and a clear commitment to green, carbon-neutral industries.
In the words of Wordsworth:
‘The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!’
The writer studies English Literature at AMU. [email protected]