The Irony of Options
This story was originally published in April 2012.
It is strange that in times of plenty, we often decide not to exercise our choices. We consume without giving a thought to the future. We do things that make our lives as enjoyable as possible without a second glance at the byproducts of our indulgence. It is easy to reason with ourselves that all of this is natural. It is, of course, in the nature of all humans to consume before we conserve.
Conservation, too, is a purely human trait. Animals do not conserve, in the way humans mean it. They simply live within a natural balance, taking what is necessary and giving what needs to be given. As humans, we tend to believe that we are a notch above other creatures in the evolutionary ladder, because we have bigger brains and created religion and philosophy, and because we can decide when to mate. This is natural. Nature, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
Indeed, nature thrives on all things ironic and burlesquely contradictory. For instance, the hardest metals are born from the liquids inside the hearts of the hottest fires. And, it is in the times of trials and tribulations, that heroes are born. Can joy exist without the knowledge of sorrow? Imagine war without peace… or life without death. Scientists theorise that life itself was born in the midst of inhospitable chemical soups, created by lava vents so deep in the sea that the water touching the molten rock cannot flash into steam. But let us leave the phoenixes of the world to their respective ashes, and talk about photography.
It takes a lifetime of patience to become a well-known wildlife photographer. Yet, the sum of a legendary photographer’s most celebrated work may not amount to a minute, if you consider the total time the shutter remained open for those shots. I have seen photographers turn cameras costing lakhs of rupees into point-and-shoot toys. But, what then, is an Auto mode for, if it is not to be used? I was once told that Dr. Salim Ali, legendary ornithologist and naturalist, got his photographs of birds with a cheap Agfa box camera, by moving very, very slowly… at the rate of an inch a minute.
A surprising number of things in our quest for creativity is associated with the availability or unavailability of options. Get the picture?