If Nature could speak, what would she say? When did time as we know it even begin? Although it is presently believed that Nature has existed for 3.5 billion years, the origins of Nature remain a mystery. In comparison, human civilisation has only existed for 6,500 years. Nature and civilisation have been portrayed as rivals in countless stories. But perhaps, we are not so much rivals as we are long lost friends striving for balance.
Welcome to another Fireside Chat at Mith Books. I have with me fellow Singapore-based author Devashish Sardana. In his novel The Apple, he draws our attention to, “the brutality of the ‘civilised people’ who are ready to kill anyone just to satisfy their greed. This is juxtaposed alongside the dedication of the Sentinels who are ready to sacrifice their own life fighting to protect the treasure which they have been safeguarding for thousands of years.
“The book also throws light on the irony that the Civilisation which calls the Sentinels ‘savage’ are more savage, cruel, brutal and greedy themselves. The savagery under the mask of civilisation is skilfully depicted in such a manner that blurs the boundary between the civilised and the savage.” –Sanchari Das in The Rivalry Between Nature and Civilisation, The Mith Book Club
Authors Devashish Sardana and Dipa Sanatani
Dipa: A big theme is your novel The Apple is the rivalry between nature and civilisation. Ancient peoples all over the world saw themselves as custodians, not owners of the earth. What do you think led to this shift in the way we see ourselves on this planet?
Dev: Unrestrained greed. Our capitalistic society has created a deep restlessness to ‘own’ things, even if we do not need them.
This has led to a vicious, undying circle as greed knows no bounds. We’ve reached a tipping point where aspiration for materialistic pleasures has turned into blatant entitlement. And, it doesn’t help that there are so many of us, and so little resources.
Greed brought us to the top of the mountain and overpopulation has pushed us over the cliff. Now, we are free falling.
Dipa: Who do you think has the upper hand in this rivalry—nature or civilisation? Who will ultimately ‘win’?
Dev: Balance would win ultimately. Nature, in all its forms, believes in balance. Currently, our greed, our desires have created an imbalanced relationship with Nature. We, the human civilisation, must strive to restore balance. Sooner the better. Before Nature decides to take drastic measures that, in the short term, would be catastrophic for our civilisation.
Dipa: When we talk about ‘development’, we typically speak of a shift from a rural way of life to dwelling in cities. Yet, people in cities are portrayed as depressed and lonely, whilst the simpler way of life is depicted as a happy one. After all that’s happened, can we go back to the way we were?
Dev: The human mind likes tangibles. We understand what we can count or measure. So, we defined ‘development’ as an economic measure because we thought more money equals more happiness. And we couldn’t have been more wrong because economic development and happiness are driven by opposite forces – one is led by greed (more the merrier) and the other by low expectations versus reality (less is more).
So, can we go back to where we were? No, I don’t think so.
So, there is no redemption for us? We can’t go back, but we can create a more balanced future where development of the mind and soul are both encouraged and endorsed. And, economic development will just become a by-product of that future, not the goal.
Dipa: In your book, there is a war between Civilisation and Nature (Sentinels). The Sentinels, are ready to sacrifice their own life fighting to protect the treasure which they have been safeguarding for thousands of years. In a modern world where ‘now’ is all that matters, how can we safeguard the earth for future generations?
Dev: The only way out is to re-mould our collective mindsets toward gratitude and kindness. It’ll take time, possibly a few generations, and it’ll hurt because selfishness and greed are so entrenched in our psyche.
First, we must put aside the ‘I’ and start paying forward acts of kindness in the present, before we can even think about future generations. Embrace the high of happiness that comes with the release of oxytocin (the love hormone). I dare say that kindness is one drug that we should get addicted to. Did you know that oxytocin is released not only when you do or receive an act of kindness, but also when you witness an act of kindness?
So, here’s a radical approach – let’s create a perpetual cycle of acts of kindness, make them go viral every single day on social media (instead of violence and fear), let people around the world witness kindness, let them swim in oxytocin, and they will pay it forward. Do that for years, and you’d re-mould our minds and hearts to be kind to future generations.