~ Srajit M Kumar
“For there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the
madness of men.”
― Herman Melville, Moby Dick
The Lonely Planet entry for Porto Cervo, Sardinia, reads something like this:
Apart from the magnificent coastal scenery that surrounds it, there’s nothing remotely Sardinian about Porto Cervo. Instead, it resembles exactly what it is: a purpose-built leisure centre for the super-rich – a kind of Disneyland for Gucci-clad grown-ups.
Porto Cervo is unapologetic about the place it comes from; rather, it owns up to its history, and even celebrates it. The city was built on the whims and fancies of Aga Khan IV, the current Aga Khan, who as a prince was infinitely fascinated by the beauty of the Sardinian Coast. He bought the first plots of land in the middle of Costa Smeralda and developed the first few hotels there. The Aga Khan, head of some 15 million Ismaili Muslims living throughout the world, who consider him a direct descendent of the prophet, built this for a group of close friends and developed it as the paradise it was supposed to be. However, by the end of 55 years, the atmosphere had changed: the paradise Aga Khan built for himself and his close friends, some of the richest, most aristocratic families in Italy has been replaced by Gaddafi’s son crashing a yacht into the harbour walls and the Russian Mafia firing shots at parties. In 2007, the Aga Khan’s paradise was taken away from him, and his control over the consortium that runs the place loosened.
The designer Dilip Da Cunha called the separation of land and water not merely an act of division, but an act of creation; by clearly defining what is land and what is water, we actively conceive both these concepts out of a ubiquitous wetness. The demarcations between land and water become clearer by the day, and eventually, in a lot of cases, land starts staking claim over water; but the wetness lives on in one way or the other. Land feeds into Water and Water feeds into Land. This is perhaps why Porto Cervo is not pristine anymore. Bottles of water crowd the beaches. The sea has lost its colour: from a pristine blue, it has turned into a dark haze.
Last week, a female sperm whale washed ashore on Porto Cervo. Like most victims of our species, it did not have a name. The only facts we knew about her up until today are that she was 26 feet (around 8 metres) long, a dark shade of blue in colour; more importantly, she was carrying another life inside her. She was pregnant, and she had had to go through an abortion before she washed ashore.
Yesterday, we found out that there is more than what meets the eye. Today, we found out the most important detail about her, a detail that is in equal parts harrowing and unbelievable. After all, sometimes, it takes us all our lives to cope with trauma because trauma often speaks to us in our silences and it works even in the lack of memory, for it leaves marks where and words and memories can’t reach. The whale was not just carrying another life inside her, she was also carrying the burden of millions of human lives: she was carrying around 48 kilograms of plastic inside her body. There were garbage begs, fishing lines, tubes, and a bag of washing machine liquid inside her.
For years we have lived with the easy comfort of throwing away light plastic objects as it were nothing. It’s just a straw. It’s just a plastic bag. It’s just a wrapper. The only problem is, it’s not. There is no tangible, visible damage, but we must never forget what Exupery said: what is essential is invisible. 85% of all waste in the ocean is now plastic. The human species won’t face any direct consequences until the next 50 years or so, but we must realise that we are not the only ones facing the consequences of our actions; most of the consequences are borne by millions of nameless animals. We recently observed the first death anniversary of Sudan, the last White Rhino, who with him took away his species. We can’t even begin to imagine how many species have been killed at our own hands. We are living through another extinction — only this time, it is a conscious extinction, for we are consciously and continuously aware of the results of our actions. We live in an age where climate change is increasingly assuming the threatening proportions of an existential threat, and yet we keep on doing things that actively harm the Earth — both on the institutional and personal levels.