In the silence of the forest, I realized something. I cannot change as fast as society wants me to. In this fast-moving world, there is no place for sluggish people like me. Evolution would probably not take my lazy traits forward, and a “slow life” like mine would see the same fate as that of a giant ground sloth.
I’m one of the seven billion homo sapiens living off this planet. I speak a particular language, belong to some caste and race that reminds me that I must be married. Else, I will be destroyed by my own creators. When I was growing up in a tiny home surrounded by the forests of central India, spending time with ants, moths, and butterflies gave me immense pleasure. When I was a kid, two owlets frequented my backyard. I refused to have dinner without having watched them hoot. Twenty-three years later, I still absolutely love watching owls and totally love tripping on ants and moths. I have always dreamt of a simple life around animals and trees. I never wanted to attend school but I landed there every day. Like everyone else I knew, I proceeded to get my degrees. And now I am doing my PhD; thankfully, after enough battles, I am finally learning and working on something that I love and am passionate about! The wildlife of India, frogs, and forests is what keeps me ticking. It’s been a long and tiring journey, and I feel compelled to share some of it with you.
When I went to school, I diligently followed my teachers’ advice. They asked me to sit in a particular way, play certain games, and behave in a socially acceptable way. I tried hard to become that good girl. After school, Father said that I must attend college. I put a cover on my camera and kept it away. I picked up books that didn’t interest me. After I finished college, I remember someone telling me, “You’re a big girl now—let’s find you a life-partner!” In other words, a male member of homo sapiens, belonging to the same caste and creed, who would work hard and provide bread and shelter to the vulnerable other sex. I didn’t say no to this. Why should I? The only thing I was taught since I was a child was to say yes to whatever the elders of my society said. They were more experienced, after all, weren’t they? They began meeting prospective candidates and discussing my future: children, a decent job, and family. That’s all there was to life.
That night, I woke up with tears in my eyes. The air conditioner had frozen my room with artificial, choking cold. I had a lump in my throat and I wanted to shout out loud. I wanted to tell everyone around me that they were wrong and that they were all being foolish. Life is not about children, family, and husband. It’s a lot more than that.
I knew what I was longing for. My heart had figured out exactly what was missing. I went up to my terrace and stared at the stars. That night, there was a lunar eclipse. I saw the moon change its color. In a span of three hours, the bright white sphere slowly turned ruby red and then white again. I lay on the cold floor. This cold wasn’t choking me. It was beautiful. A cool, mellow breeze tickled my hair. My tears had vanished.
Soon, I’d packed my bag and vowed to roam the forests, to find frogs and owls. Mother Nature cradled me. I had decided not to live by societal standards, which had kept me tied up for years. I found myself hitch-hiking across the barren mountains of the Himalayas. I was finally smiling.
Three years have since passed. I have seen most wild corners of the country. I have tried to study frogs, birds, and what not. Sometimes I’ve found great company—some people have written me poems and someone once composed a song. Sometimes I’ve felt lonely. But I have always worshipped forests, and I continue to do so even today. The people I have met have given me the strength to live the way I like. I have found myself sleeping on clean beaches on the west coast and sometimes running into bushes to hide from elephants in the Anamalai. This uncertainty always sends a shiver down my spine as I contemplate exploring a new forest.
I have found shelter within villages that surround protected forests. I have gossiped with people living in these forests. I have lived and experienced the tales of Kenneth Anderson, something that I had only read about as a child—and am now living myself!
Shouldn’t I be proud to have explored so much and that I decided to go against the tide? I probably should! Well, the reality is something else. Every time I see these false expectations imposed by society upon each and every one of us, I am unwittingly pushed into misery. I know that I should ignore them, as well as the need for external validation. Instead, I should derive validation from myself internally (and maybe a few more people I trust deeply). But it is tough to do that every single day, to remind myself that validation stems from within and that society can be wrong!
Fast-forward to today: I have often questioned the path I’ve chosen. At 28, I don’t plan to have babies. I don’t want to live a successful married (read, patriarchal?) life. I don’t want to be that sweetheart girl who’s loved by everybody. There are over three billion women on this planet and each one has a unique story to tell, a different set of emotions and opinions. To be just a simple homo sapiens isn’t enough.