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The other day, I was on Discovery Channel, watching a show on wildlife in the African Savanna.

If you want to reduce stress, watch animals. Trust me, a half-hour of National Geographic or Discovery Channel will help you bounce back into the rhythm of things. 

On the screen the scene was this vast searing hot ecosystem, a horizon to horizon undulating grassland, where the trees were strangely flattened out on top, looking somewhat like champagne bowls. The few trees that had managed to survive the harsh environment, were few and far between. If you were looking for shade, there was hardly any canopy at all. 

At the far distance, in the shimmering haze, there appeared a collection of dots and as the camera zoomed in, they coalesced into a herd of wildebeest, lazily ambling around, occasionally stooping and munching on sparse clumps of grass, tails flicking this way and that. There must have been around two hundred of them over there. 

At this point, the camera focused on a spot roughly in the middle of the grazing herd and came to rest on a bunch of brown shapes that, as the zoom continued, turned out to be a pride of approximately ten lions, lionesses and cubs. They were sprawled on the ground, unmindful of the herd of wildebeest milling around them. 

The cubs playfully scampered this way and that, till one strayed a bit further than his play-mates, edging warily toward a young wildebeest calf that was grazing right next and staring up at it, as if to say,’ Hey, dumbo, come on, how about a game of hide and seek. Mom and Dad said its okay.’ 

Just a few yards away, an alpha male adult lion with a massive mane sat up, but it showed no interest and made no move. Instead, it just gazed at the cub and the calf a while and gave out a lazy grunt, like, “Watch it, Joey, wildebeest are our friends, albeit yummy friends, but friends all the same – at least until supper time.” 

The cub sauntered back to the pride and began playfully nudging and biting the huge lion’s ears, the annoyance making the big cat snarl and shove him away. The lion blinked and yawned and then fell back on the grass, it’s ear twitching, trying to swat the flies away. Thereafter, its lower stomach rose and fell rhythmically while it lay there, dead to the world. 

In the background, the deep mellifluous voice of the film icon, Morgan Freeman, was providing the narration, “…..Among all living beings through the ages, the need to consume in order to survive has always been apparent. Charles Darwin called it the ‘natural cycle of life’. There have been hunters and there have been prey, but except for one species – man, that consumption has never been a wanton one. Predators such as these lions seek out and kill only when they feel hunger and then, only the number of prey that they know they can consume and no more. Once satiated, a herd of wildebeest can mill around in close proximity, knowing they are safe from attack, at least for a while….” 

The video was moving, leaving indirectly a fact unspoken – that unlike other living beings, we humans do not have an instinctive urge to conserve. It made me wonder at the futility of religion and the Abrahamic lie that says we are the chosen ones, created in the image of God. Chosen for what? And if we have been created in God’s image, he must be one bizarre, self-destructive God. Here was a bunch of animals, ruthless carnivores, supposedly unable to discern between right and wrong and yet, they lived by a code which said – take only what you can consume. 

I have heard that the American gangster, Meyer Lansky, spent a lot of his time watching wild animals on TV. He would say that, from them he had learnt to take (read – ‘kill’) only what he needed to, for his survival. And when he took, he always made sure that while he had the lion’s share of the spoils, there was still enough left for his crew. Exactly the way a lion in the pride would do. Perhaps it is because of this invaluable dictum that Lansky was one of only a handful of top mob figures who died of old age in their own beds. 

Maybe the time is running out for us to learn to live as lions among the wildebeests….