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Bio?diversity: Nature’s Magnum Opus

MANDEEP LAMA

“Padamsingh Subba ‘APATAN’ Memorial Lecture” Talks Sense

PART-I
When I received the “cordial” invitation from Sikkim Akademi for    attending Padamsingh Subba ‘APATAN’ Memorial Lecture 2012, I flipped over the burgundy coloured card for viewing the day’s à la carte. The difference struck me almost immediately. The Lecturer for the day was someone who didn’t belong to the usual milieu of Gangtok’s over exposed and tiresome bigwigs; those who keep hopping the various local ceremonies, seminars, and jayantees as if their life depended on these!
The name written on the card was that of Keshab Chandra Pradhan, one of the best bureaucrats Sikkim has ever had; who rose to the pinnacle of his professional career, retiring as Chief Secretary to the Government of Sikkim in the year 1993. K. C. Saheb, as he is fondly addressed by almost everybody, is a renowned Sikkimese floriculturist who carries immense prestige amongst gifted botanists the world over. The invitation card further said that the topic for the day’s lecture was biodiversity. I immediately saw a prudent sense in the Akademi’s choice of topic. At this juncture in the life of our home planet, the Earth’s ruling principle – biological diversity – is under severe strain like never before, and threatening to blow out of control in an irreversible crisis. This being so, the lecture on biodiversity was well thought of, and Keshab Chandra Pradhan is without argument the apt person to deliver it. Why because, the extremely complex academic discipline of biodiversity fits K. C. Saheb like nothing else. He has spent a lifetime in its indulgence. Sikkim Akademi’s choice of topic and the person to deliver it couldn’t have been better. And, Akademi’s decision to felicitate Shri Pradhan on the occasion for his many achievements was legitimately admirable as well.  
The invitation card also mentioned of a Chief Guest, but no name was given. I was curious to know. On enquiry, I found another departure from the tasteless convention of hoisting some tactless politicians or sundry peers to the podium as the Chief Guests in many of our solemn academic invigorations! Not so in this instance. The Chief Guest for the Memorial Lecture was going to be none other than the Right Honourable (retd.) Justice A. P. Subba.
These were the three overwhelming reasons – biodiversity, Shri K.C. Pradhan, and Justice Subba – that emboldened me to attend the Padamsingh Subba ‘APATAN’ Memorial Lecture 2012 in the rather cosy conference hall of Denzong Regency, which is owned and managed by one of the best known families in Sikkim: The Densapas. A perfect sort of stage was set for reliving the memory of one of the pioneers of Limboo and Nepali languages and literatures in Sikkim: Shri Padamsingh Subba “Apatan” (1923 – 2010).
The “APATAN” (literally “imperishable”) acronym was created out of the four pioneering names in the annals of Sikkimese Nepali literature, viz., Agam Singh Tamang, Padamsingh Subba, Tulsibahadur Chhetri, and Nima Wangdi Targain, and is, in true sense of the term, the fount of modern Sikkim’s literary exertion. Around the year 1946 – 47, when the Sikkimese society was reeling under a severe form of landlordism, which gleefully enacted and enforced a variety of forced labour locally known as jharlaangi, kalo-bhari, bethi-kuruwa et al on the hapless populace, establishment of an intellectual forum in the name and style of Apatan Sahitya Parishad was an act of colossal courage and vision. It is the first intellectual milestone of and for Sikkim. Truly speaking, Apatan Sahitya Parishad was nothing less than a beacon of hope and assurance in the dim and desolate lives of intellectually underprivileged Sikkimese population. Over the months and years, many creative people joined the Apatan literary-wagon, and the caravan cruised ahead. For instinctive litterateurs, emergence of Apatan Sahitya Parishad was nothing less than a grand occasion for practising not only their skills at literary creations but also for dealing with a plethora of dire socio-cultural, political, academic, and economic conditions during those trying times in the middle of the 20th century.
The Apatans must have had their encouragement in India’s prolonged freedom struggle and her newly gained independence, and were sanguinely serenaded by the fresh gush of free thinking intellectualism that was blowing across the Sub-continent. Each member of the Apatan literary forum must have been good in their craft and in their inherent sincerity as well, otherwise we’d not have been singing hosannas in their paean after sixty-five years! The soul of Apatan Sahitya Parishad really seems to be “imperishable” as it has revealed its creative ability to regenerate itself into “Padamsingh Subba ‘APATAN’ Memorial Lecture” series even after sixty odd years of its hibernated existence. And, since Apatan Sahitya Parishad had never been dissolved, this premier Sikkimese literary conclave is in the process of Phoenix-like resurrection, thanks to the efforts of a group of thoughtful literary entrepreneurs in and around Gangtok. Of course, why not?  Definitely, Apatan literary forum is the progenitor of the modern Sikkimese literature, therefore, an important cultural heritage of the State worth resurgence and preservation. It is hoped that the effort would come to fruition.        
“Padamsingh Subba ‘APATAN’ Memorial Lecture” is a substantive academic venture initiated by Sikkim Akademi to be one of its calendar events. Spun around 11th of September, the late litterateur’s birthday, I found the Memorial Lecture astutely designed to provide a meaningful platform not only for discussing issues that are important to us, but also for honing and expanding the horizon of our knowledge and understanding.
Biodiversity, the theme for the second Memorial Lecture, is one such encompassing issue of the current epoch, and proper understanding of the subject is indispensable for harmonising the activities of the humans with that of the multifarious life forms co-habiting our common home planet. If we do not educate ourselves on the inherent, as well as intricate, existential balance of relationship between the diverse life forms – microorganisms, plants, animals, and the various ecosystems – and go on exploiting nature in our blind search for unbridled economic empowerment, we would be facing mass extinction of very many species sooner than we would like to imagine. May be, the humans would be the first of the species to depart if such a mass extinction occurs as humankind is the weakest link in the chain of evolution. We have made ourselves “Masters” of the home planet, and lording over it solely on the basis of our faculty in thinking, planning and, thereby, in conspiring. However, our amazing technological know-how and its sparkling achievements would not be able to save us from annihilation if Mother Nature chooses to unleash her disgust and fury as punishment for our savagely irresponsible and gluttonous behaviour. Humankind has lined-up an astounding set of hubris against their wellbeing as of today.
The problems humanity is facing today are no ordinary problems. What is even more appalling is that these problems cannot be understood in isolation; leave aside solving them in isolation. They are systemic problems, which mean they are interconnected and interdependent. As such, these are to be studied and understood holistically or as a “whole.” This is so, because, although all the problems may look totally different to us, they are actually the product of one singular crisis. Fritjof Capra, the famed author of The Tao of Physics, calls this crisis the “crisis of perception.”This means there is something terribly wrong with our present-day perspectives, in the way we think, and in the kind of values we uphold. We have, somehow, somewhere, hugely erred in our estimation of life and its multifarious dimensions, the act of which has resulted into fogging the realms of our knowledge and understanding absolutely densely. Therefore, solution to the host of problems that we are up against today lies in knowing what, when, where, and how we did go wrong, and, as Capra says, in shifting those erring perspectives onto the right course.
However, the prevailing state of our mind indicates that it is not so easy to affect a change in our perspectives. They are far too deeply entrenched in our mind for the casual sort of a change. They have become huge psychological constructs in our every-day life for the last four hundred odd years. So, therefore, it would require the Copernican Revolution kind of a radical shift in our perceptions as well as in our thinking and value systems, which we have carried over to the present day from the times of the Scientific Revolution in the 17th century. At the root of our present day perceptions, or the system of knowledge and understanding, lie the four gigantic figures of the Scientific Revolution: Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon, René Descartes, and Isaac Newton. It is the sciences and philosophies as promulgated and practiced by this quartet, more than anything else, that has been instrumental in shaping the modern day mindset of the humankind. Our erring errand began with these four formidable men of philosophy and science in the 17th century. Let us take them one by one.
 Galileo Galilei, who was besotted with precise scientific measurement and quantification, famously stated once, “Whatever cannot be measured and quantified is not scientific.” Later on, this statement came to be interpreted as “What cannot be quantified is not real.” This “scientific view” forwarded by Galileo put the position of our home planet, the revered Mother Earth in many ancient cultural traditions across the globe, at great peril! Since the Earth’s many secrets lay buried deep in her womb and were unavailable for measurement and quantification during the times of Galileo, as they are unavailable to us even now, the Galilean science went on to destroy the ancient view of nature, which the ancient Greeks called physis, a living and perennially transforming organismic entity. Thus, the Earth was converted into a dead world completely devoid of any soul and sensibility. R. D. Laing, the famed psychiatrist and one of the giant thinkers of the 20th century, says most vehemently:
“Galileo’s program offers us a dead world: Out go sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell, and along with them have since gone esthetic and ethical sensibility, values, quality, soul, consciousness, spirit. Experience as such is cast out of the realm of scientific discourse.                                                                                                                                     
Hardly anything has changed our world more during the past four hundred years than Galileo’s audacious program. We had to destroy the world in theory before we could destroy in practice.”
[To be continued]

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi