Biplab Hazra has won the 2017 Sanctuary’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year award for this picture which was taken somewhere in West Bengal a few months back.
The frame is unsettling and the caption fitting - "Hell is here".
Hell, is often depicted by fire, "red flower" as mentioned in the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. Red flower, the wildlife believed in the story, was the greatest weapon man had, one that they couldn’t fight. Even Shere Khan, the mighty tiger succumbs to it at the end.
The story makes you believe in the words of WWF country director Christy Williams. “In the end, humans always win, whatever the species, however powerful it is.” Williams was talking in regards to the picture we began with.
Let us look at the photograph once more. Can you hear the chaos?
The award-winning picture titled 'Hell is Here' (Credit: Biplab Hazra/Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2017)
A newly born member of world’s largest terrestrial species and his mother have been set on fire by a human mob which stands in the background, howling and shouting. In their noise, the horrified and horrific screams of the two jumbos are somewhere lost, ignored.
The mob is running away, admiring its handiwork from a safe distance. It is the antagonist and the audience for the tale this award-winning photograph tells. We are the antagonists and the audience of the tale this photograph tells.
After Shere Khan’s death, in the 1906 book, the herd of elephants comes to pacify the burning forest. They bring water in their trunks and logs of wood to rebuild the jungle. They are referred to as the "builders of forest", almost being compared to the creator itself. They even forgive Mowgli, a human child for the mistake of setting the entire forest on fire.
The fire that has been set this time, is fuelled by extreme apathy and indifference which we as a species suffer from, now more than ever. We simply don’t care. None of us do.
None of those so-called "humans" in the picture can be seen coming forward with a bucket full of water to undo what has been done. When one reads more into the matter, it is not a one-off incident. India is indeed becoming a difficult place to live, even for the tuskers.
Gaia, the Greek goddess of life and creation, made us all different, but with a common strength to co-exist. She expected the highest from us, humans, giving us the gift of intellect. She wanted us to lead by example, not just how to live in our communities, but also with other living species. How we have failed her on both fronts.
We have always been Gaia’s prodigal sons, haven’t we? Breaking her laws right and left, exhausting the resources like family money and bringing tyranny upon other creatures.
These creatures no more have natural spaces to live, but sanctuaries. "Sanctuary" literally means a safe place. Definitely, if the danger was the other way around, these places would have been called dungeons or catacombs.
We do have zoos though, situated in the heart of our cities. Here too, they have been brought from their sanctuaries, caged and ill-kept for the sake of our amusement. When their kids jump at us and can’t cross the cage walls, our kids clap loud.
These walls are not just physical. We have built these walls over centuries, in our hearts, first against other species, then against "others" among us, finding ways to harness fear and hence hatred of one kind or the other.
Ironically, when a blonde world leader talks about building walls, we call him crazy. Why? We have always been good builders of walls. He just wants to build one in his name, big deal?
Coexistence is never easy. It requires a lot of patience and mutual understanding. Ask the bachelors sharing flats in various IT hubs of India. Every day is a struggle. There are just so many differences at so many different levels that if one starts minding, it would be impossible to live in such a setup. I know people leaving their apartments because their roommates would not let them use the charging point.
But people somehow live together, despite their differences because they have various stakes involved. Jobs, security deposit, lack of options or something else.
That is basic human nature. We want some stake, some reason of interest in anything we do. Alas, when it comes to living on this planet, we take our stay as permanent, deliberately forgetting our mortality.
We have to pay no security deposits, and nothing is at stake or so we think. We live the way we like, hurting sentiments and disrupting the balance of our surroundings.
The calf in the frame is not even one of the million elephants we have stored in our rooms whom we don’t want to address. Honestly, he is not even our problem, rather we are his.
In our eyes, the room has become so dingy that everyone else is an elephant, everyone else is a problem. We are desperate to eliminate them. But is this how we want to leave this world for the ones to come after us?
Just like we suffer the consequences of things our ancestors did a hundred years back, political, geographical, psychological consequences, the people living after us would blame us for the aftermaths they would suffer.
In a zoo at Lusaka, inside a giant cage, a mirror has been kept and the description reads, “world’s most dangerous animal”. Mirrors don’t lie.
Reiterating what Christy Williams said, yes, in the end, humans always win, but what if when the fight is to save our own existence, and it's too late to plan a winning strategy?
Can we win this one home against ourselves? I have my reservations.