Rebel Genes

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.

About the Author | Madhushri Mudke

Madhushri Mudke is a researcher and a conservationist. Nothing excites her more than frogs and birds. The moment she sees a bird, people lose sight of her as she runs to catch a better look. As the night falls, you can find her roaming near bodies of water to spot frogs and document them. She feels safer in the wild than in the cities, so she spends most of her time exploring the jungles of India.

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