Wednesday, 23 March 2011


Birds fell dead in thousands from the skies and millions of fish died mysteriously recently in parts of the world. Fireworks, sudden change in temperature and stormy weather had been blamed for these strange goings on, but an approaching Doomsday sounds like a more plausible explanation to this Aflockalypse. After all animals are a lot more sensitive and prescient to impending events and planetary rumblings than humans, normally being the first to make a dash for it when some natural disasters are about to take place. No doubt those birds that died en masse in mid flight, or the fishes that suddenly went belly up in the millions all suffered massive heart attack at the sight of the pale horseman casting his shadow in the horizon or the signal of an Alien attack.

Scientists are trying to make light of these events, saying they were not such rare occurrences, but then that's probably typical of government cover-up attempt in the face of weird phenomenons. Having dead birds raining down from the heavens is about as natural as the Biblical plague of locusts. For all we know the mass deaths of these poor creatures were the works of some mischievous Aliens or a scientific experiment gone wrong. Or of course the End of the World, which if we follow the Mayan calendar, is due to come the end of next year.

I don't want to frighten myself with this gloom and doom, but closer at home, my pet cat has also been showing a noticeable change in behaviour these few weeks. Little Ben, generally a pusillanimous and anti social creature, for reasons best known to himself, has taken to shift his zone of comfort for the past few years of his short life, from his mat near the water pump to the sofa in the TV room. This might not appear as cause for alarm, except for the increasing presence of fur and the occasional smell of cat urine, but for a creature that had up to now shown only autistic nature that is immune to human caresses and suspicious of company both two legged and four legged, this sudden transformation in character and habit is quite disturbing. Is this the result of Ben finally realising that the sofa is an infinitely nicer spot to have his catnap or portends a more sinister happening? Like the end of the world. Which scientifically speaking, is not unnatural either. Difficult to document perhaps, but not impossible.

Throughout the ages species on this planet had lived and had gone extinct with regular frequencies. Creatures that had walked, flown or swam in this earth for thousands and millions of years could suddenly disappear without as much as a by your leave, including our ancestors, leaving future descendants to puzzle over the mysteries of what exactly happened and why.

Moreover, it's only recently that modern humans have colonised the planet and in terms of time we could only trace our history a mere few thousand of years back (Twitter by the way is only four years old and Facebook seven), while theory holds that our specie 'homo sapiens' had actually been around two hundred thousand years ago in Africa. Which means that between the numerous planetary catastrophes and climactic changes that went on in beween, the melting and the freezing of the continents, there were no doubt a bunch of strange goings on that we could never know for sure.

Such as what were the sabre toothed tigers and hairy mammoths doing when they suddenly became extinct? And what were the Neanderthals up to and thinking about before their entire specie was wiped out the face of the planet? May be they were praying or planning the best way to defend themselves against the upstart Homo Sapiens that were encroaching their hunting ground? Thinking about it, what prompted some of our Homo Sapiens ancestors to leave the African contintent and populate the world some forty to fifty thousand years ago? Perhaps because birds fell out of the sky too and the fishes died?

Even the discoveries of our human origins continue to surprise us. So used are we to thinking ourselves the product of the only superior and intelligent being that roamed the earth, recent revelation about the Neanderthals, with whom Homo Sapiens shared the planet tens of thousands years ago and deemed to have crossed path with and even exchanged genes, is making us rethink about our history and what constitutes the human species. Apparently we were not the only smart being around. The Neanderthals too, contrary to our beliefs, developed their own tools and even cooked their food.

And then there were the Denisovans, an ancient human type whose remains were found in the caves of Siberia recently, who were thought to have lived alongside and even bred with our Homo Sapiens ancestors some fifty thousand years ago. Throw in the 'Homo Florensis' Hobbit and the world seemed to have been a lot more interesting place to live in those days when the planet was somewhat younger.

These are all silly musings of course, but there's nothing quite like looking at things in perspective and trying to see the big picture to make life a lot less alarming and keep our hubris as the dominant species on earth in check. The world is always changing and coming to an end in one way or the other and will continue to do so. Civilisations and cultures rose and fell, different human races thrived and disappeared, beliefs grew and changed as knowledge developed and evolved. Nothing is permanent even as night becomes day. The one thing that we need to do is continually deepen our knowledge and find answers to the question Why.

(Desi Anwar: First Published in The Jakarta Globe)

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