Shades of Grey

Last evening, I put up a status message on my Facebook page asking people to please wear grey today – August, 12 – to commemorate World Elephant Day. A handful have responded by doing so, and publicly acknowledging it. I am guessing the vast majority read it (perhaps), shrugged their shoulders and forgot about it. Another handful are likely to have scoffed – what is the point of our wearing grey? How does that help elephant conservation? What use is it for me as an individual to question issues that the worlds professionals are failing at?

One can be esoteric and claim that masses of similar mindsets can trigger the much needed positive vibrations in the world of eco-conservation. Particularly with respect to endangered species. Plenty of scoffing in the background!

While I lay no claim to any knowledge on the subject, I cannot but believe that a positive vibration is better than indifference. And as for the elephants, I have complete conviction that they know. That they understand. There is scientific proof in plenty about elephant communication channels spread across the width and length of the African continent. All silent. At least silent to our sense of hearing.

But there is another claim that I choose to make. Every drop of water does add to form the ocean. Every pebble thrown in does create far reaching ripples in a still pond. And it takes the first step to start any climb.

We have an incredibly low sense of self. We all believe we, as individuals, can make no difference. And our fear of failure has degenerated into apathy. While that in itself is a sad testimonial for us, its a death sentence of tragic proportions for so many, many species. And ultimately us.

I choose to wear grey today. Its symbolic. Its not JUST symbolic. Human activity thrives around ideals. So this is mine. Save the elephant from extinction. And the lion, the tiger, the rhino. All the creatures that depend on them and the habitats that is theirs. And the plants that they help seed, the forests they help grow.

Can you – of my generation – remember as a child seeing picture of elephants in school books? Visiting the zoo or the circus? Maybe a lucky few even seeing elephants in the wild? How many years ago are we talking of? 20, 30, 40? Decades! Time flies by before we know it. And you know what? We are looking at NO elephants on earth in less than 10 years – as I type this. Does that make any impact on any of you? Its not “We don’t have 10 WHOLE years”. It is “What we have is NOT EVEN 10 years”.

Its the same fact. The question is how do you place your emphasis? What does a decade mean to you? Some of your children will never see the elephant at this rate. They will read about it like we read about the dodo. How does this feel? Does it matter? I am sure – again – most of you will shrug your shoulders, maybe raise an eyebrow and question my claim. Hopefully at least one of you will google and check this all out. That bit of interest alone is worth it, for me. It shows a concern towards a topic that is not your day-to-day business. In a being that is not part of your urban daily life.

While the presidents of various countries are being “appealed” to to curb the ivory trade, burn stockpiles, impose sanctions on the far was, etc. where do you and I really come in?

To begin with, let me ask this of my friends. At least, my Indian friends, a community I know because I belong to it. How many of you own a piece of ivory? An earring, a curio, a religious idol? Yes, of course, you did not buy it – for one, ivory trade has been banned for most of our lives. For another it was prohibitively expensive when it was legal. For a third, yes somewhere most of us do have at least a subconscious sense of wrong.

Yet again, I ask you – do you own a piece of ivory? Inherited probably from three generations ago? Gifted? However? If so, what are you going to do with it? Stash it in a cupboard and pretend it does not exist? It is not politically correct to wear ivory or fur anymore! Keep it in a bank locker? Wow – its a gold mine today. Or gift it to a museum maybe? Leave it in a temple or church? The onus of ownership is no more yours?

If anyone has a concern about elephant poaching, the ivory trade and where the world is going on this matter, my next question begs an answer. WHAT are you going to do with it? At this juncture you can no more say that its not your business. Its your piece of ivory, after all!

Stashing it in a locker keeps your conscience clear. Hopefully you can pass the difficult decision to the the next generation? A museum? Thats where a fair bit of the ivory trade happens from – old fashioned robbery? Or worse, the unscrupulous, greedy trader will look at that intricately carved piece of art and say “I want that – or one like it”. Bang. A few thousands of dollars exchange hands. A piece of ivory is carved to adorn a home. Or a bank locker. A life is snuffed out at the altar of human ego.

You can claim it damaged crops, trampled villagers, HAD to be shot. The herd was too big for the habitat. It had to be culled. It was a domestic elephant that was fed and sheltered and look what it did one day! No, really? Who has trespassed on whose land? Whose habitat has shrunk? Who has grown their population out of all control? Did the elephant beg to be chained and whipped and fed and, yes, even worshipped? Ah, but once again, these questions are too – big? Not for us to question why. Amazing how humanity always finds an easy way out … never mind where the rest of creation is headed!

How many of us Hindus will burn evil at this year’s Holi pyre? Is anything more evil than murder? And there is only one way you can own ivory – by murdering an elephant. I don’t know if this is a possible solution. It will take enormous courage to put your heritage to the torch. To burn a craftsman’s hours of creation. To take an irreversible step – which may or may not be the right one.

There is huge debate on the rights and wrongs of ivory stockpile burning. Just like there are huge debates on whether game hunting is a fair way to raise revenue for conservation activities. Whether political action will remove the demand for endangered animal produce. Whether farming of these species is an ethical solution to curb the poaching menace.

As for me, call me headstrong. Call me obstinate. But killing is killing. Killing a few to protect the masses is not an acceptable solution for me. Do we sanction killing people of one community or country by another because we feel that they are violent? Will we sanction killing of patients in the ebola epidemic because they can potentially wipe out the rest of humanity?

We use harsh, painful words like war. Human rights. Murder. So how does it become any different when the being walks on four legs instead of two? Or has wings or fins? Or creeps or crawls? There are infinite shades of every colour.

I wore grey today.