Reason for Hope – Reason for Joy

One of the women I admire (and there are many) is Jane Goodall. I am right now amid reading her biography and am extremely enamored by it. My love affair with the lady started when I read her response to the unfortunate killing of Harambe, the female Gorilla who was killed in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo. A baby girl fell into Harambe’s enclosure and to save the baby’s life, the Zoo officials decided to shoot Harambe. There was a lot of hue and cry about the event and people took no time in raising fingers at everyone involved in the incident. The mom who was labeled careless and the Zoo officials who were labeled heartless. I really felt bad for Harambe that she had to die for no fault of her own, but I could not understand the debates and arguments about how wrong the response was – everything in hindsight mind you. I thought about what if it would have been a child dear to me that was caught in the situation? Would I then have had issue with the Zoo official’s response to the incident in shooting Harambe and rescuing the child. Yes, there has been an instance of another Gorilla in a Chicago Zoo picking up a child who had once again fallen into the enclosure and delivering it to the waiting arms of the officials at the gate. However, one incident does not guarantee that a completely different Gorilla will have the same kind of response. A decision had to be made and it had to be made fast. Sure, there was a lot of outcry because people believed that Harambe had a hand around the child and was trying to save it. But the Zoo Officials did not have the luxury of hindsight or time on their hands. Imagine the backlash if the child had not been rescued. So, for whatever reason and because they had the authority and responsibility of the Zoo, it was decided that Harambe be shot. There were questions as to why she had to be killed and not just drugged from people not realizing that a big Gorilla does not go to sleep instantaneously. It could get agitated and most likely attack. My thoughts were that the Zoo officials must have done the best they could under the circumstances.

A few days later, I read a statement that was released by Jane Goodall. I tried to google her response, but I am unable to locate the exact words but in a letter to the Zoo she empathizes with the Zoo officials and tells the Zookeeper that she understands the response and ends with “Feeling for you!” She asks for the well being of the other 2 female Gorillas who were with Harambe and asks if they had been allowed to grieve. If there is one word I would associate with this response from her, it would be the word Empathy. Something that is sorely lacking in our world right now.

She empathizes with the Zoo Keeper, the officials, Harambe and her companions. No judgement is passed nor any agreement with the actions shown. The letter is short, to the point and elegantly written. I can imagine the lovely and elegant white-haired Jane Goodall typing this response and sending it out. Truly, a remarkable woman that I was (mis) introduced to via the movie Gorilla’s in the Mist. Later I realized that Dian Flossey who was portrayed so brilliantly by Sigourney Weaver was completely different from Jane Goodall though both had dedicated their lives to the study of primates. Jane to Chimpanzees and Dian to Gorillas.

I have been blessed in the sense that with my Dad being in the Forest Department that encompassed postings in remote areas and finally overseeing the huge Hyderabad Zoo for more than 5 years, I’ve had a close relationship with nature and animals. I believe that much of my personality has been molded based on those years I spent hiking mountains, wading through rivers and streams, walking through the jungles of the Eastern Ghats. My most treasured memories and I know I have been extremely lucky to have had that in my life. I have always been drawn to people like me who enjoy nature and have a close relationship with animals. Jane Goodall fit that bill and much more. I enjoy her thoughts and her talks. Her quotes are mind blowing and seem so much in sync with what I take away from a situation. In short, I admire her and have been a fan for years.

I remember picking a book for kids and reading it with my son about her. It narrated how Jane had loved animals from since she was a child and once when she was about 18 months old had collected worms and placed them under her pillow. When she was told that it might kill the worms, she had been distraught and did not rest until she restored the worms to their habitat. Soon after she collected snails from the beach and bought them home. Apparently, there were snails all over the walls of her room and her parents again told her that it might kill them. Jane became hysterical and then again put them all back in the sea. These stories enchanted and fascinated me. No wonder that when I chanced upon her autobiography – Reason for Hope, I immediately picked it up.I have been full of wonder and joy reading it the past few days and her personal narration of those charming incidents was lovely. She writes about even more incidents and I find myself really savoring this book. Her insights, her journey to achieve her dream of living in Africa coming from very humble beginnings, the empathy and wonder she writes with – I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful it is to be reading this book. Consider the following snippet from it:

“I fell madly in love with him. I was fifteen years old, and in those days, one could still be a child at that age.”

She writes about her mom –

“Certainly, I was lucky to be provided with a mother wise enough to nurture and encourage my love of living things and my passion for knowledge. Most important was her philosophy that her children should always try their very best. How would I have turned out, I sometimes wonder, had I grown up in a house that stifled enterprise by imposing harsh and senseless discipline. Or in an atmosphere of overindulgence, in a household where there were no rules, no boundaries drawn. My mother certainly understood the importance of discipline, but she always explained why some things were not allowed. Above all, she tried to be fair and consistent.”

I could have written this about my mother. That’s exactly how Ammi was with me.

What I read today completely blew me away and I felt very strongly that I need to put this on my blog and I am just trying to do that. Jane is writing about the time where she basically agrees to work in the forest observing Chimpanzees. She writes –

“I became totally absorbed into this forest existence. It was an unparalleled period when aloneness was a way of life; a perfect opportunity, it might seem, for meditating on the meaning of existence and my role in it all. But I was far too busy learning about the Chimpanzees’ lives to worry about the meaning of my own. I had gone to Gombe to accomplish a specific goal, not to pursue my early preoccupation with religion and philosophy. Nevertheless, those months at Gombe helped to shape the person I am today – I would have been insensitive indeed of the wonder and the endless fascination of my new world had not had a major impact on my thinking. All the time, I was getting closer to animals and nature, and as a result closer to myself and more and more in tune with the spiritual power that I felt all around. For those who have experienced the joy of being alone with nature, there is really little need for me to say more; for those who have not, no words of mine can ever describe the powerful, almost mystical knowledge of beauty and eternity that come, suddenly, and all unexpected. The beauty is always there, but moments of true awareness were rare. They would come, unannounced; perhaps when I was watching the pale flush preceding dawn; or looking up through the rustling leaves of some giant forest tree into the greens and browns and the black shadows and the occasionally ensnared bright fleck of the blue sky; or when I stood, as darkness fell with one hand on the still-warm trunk of a tree and looked at the sparkling early moon on the never still, softly sighing water of Lake Tanganyika.”

Pure Magic – the words, the feelings, the emotions and the raw love for nature. Mere words, but from the heart and so touching. Once again, my feeling that I could be writing these words permeates my being as I visualize a sky with all hues of colors possible from grey to orange to blue to red slowly receding into darkness with the limbs of the trees silhouetted against the vast expanse, donning on the darkness before nightfall itself!