Is Yonder Field Greener?

We never seem to be happy with what we have. Yonder field looks greener

Surely, for the migrant boat people, looking for a more stable economic, political and social niche is a ‘legitimate’ human aspiration.

According to the Nobel Prize psychologist, Daniel Kahneman in his illuminating book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ where he outlines the two modules in our head – one fast, irrational process as opposed to the slow and reasonable – we generally use our feelings and irrationality to choose what we like. And we ultimately fall prey to what is impulsive – looking for safer havens.

Many of us rarely appreciate what we have under our nose, because this demands a lot of hard thinking and appreciation. We are incapable of such perpetual feat, so we prefer to choose the easy way out, go according to our whims and fancies. It is in our nature to look for adventure and surprises – a way of adding spices to our life. We cannot stay put; we have to keep moving.

Appreciating our own country, its beauty and stability is beyond most of us; we keep dreaming of the wonderful advantages in the advanced countries, always believing that everything over there is like manna from the wilderness. Or may be, our choice is heavily influenced by the wonderful imagery we have spun in our mind by watching so many glamorous and fantastic films from those countries, always oblivious of their disadvantages.

Now and then we will meet relatives settled in the first world; and they will give us the impression that their life is wonderfully rosy in yonder land. But we know that they have to slog it out day in day out. They rarely have time to meet relatives or friends, whereas here we are more informal in our visits; and we never feel ourselves as second-class citizens. Of course, they can count on better social and health benefits to counteract those disadvantages. But are they happier?

Eye Opener

Once, in a party we met a timid, intelligent Indian professional who, after a drink or so, bewildered us by mildly pontificating that only people who have had a good karma, are reborn again in Mauritius! Suddenly we realized that we have not been looking benevolently at our own country; and it befell on some outsider to act as eye opener in this perspective. He who sees so many people on the Indian roads, who has to travel in over-crowded buses, who has to put up with temperatures of above 40 degrees in summer and who would envy our clean air – had seen just. We are the only ones who had failed to notice the silver lining in the clouds.

Another mind opener was to come during our vacation in Italy in1998; we had visited Venice and been overwhelmed by its uniqueness. As we went window-shopping in a nearby town and enjoying Andreas Bocelli unforgettable ‘Con Te Partiro’ tune in the corridors of the shopping mall, we decided to pop into a shop to practice our Mauritian bargaining power. The Italian sale girls behind the counter could easily have taken part in our beauty contest at home; but they were as enthusiastic at looking at us as we were at them.

We gradually understood that they were amazed by our naturally ultra ‘sun tanned’ skin which, we supposed, they would gladly have exchanged with us. They asked us politely where we were from; from Mauritius – we replied. ’From Mauritius, from Mauritius!!!’ They could hardly believe their ears. ‘You leave Mauritius to come here!!!’ Mauritius is paradise, they uttered. We were nonplussed. Most probably they have had an Internet or postcard’s version and vision of our island. But they surely envied us as we were envying them for living so near Venice!

We never seem to be happy with what we have. Yonder field looks greener.

Genetic Revelation

History and genetic research are teaching us that emigration had started hundreds of millennia ago; many waves of people had left Africa for other parts of the world. Homo Sapiens were the last to do so some 70,000 years ago. Preceding them were the Australopithecus genus and their descendants – Neanderthals, Cro-Magnon, Denisovans or the Florensensis.)

Now it is believed that waves of our ancestors crossed over from the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait at the southeastern-most part of the Red Sea. If we were living at that time, we would surely have agreed with others to cross over to the Arabian Peninsula and push further east. Why east? To our primitive mind the only constant, regular daily event were the magical rising of the faithful sun, that comfortable safe light and fear extinguisher; where could it be coming from every morning at that flat straight horizon? Could that astral body have been an impetus to move east? It is anyone’s guess.

And we would have stuck to the seaside where food was plentiful; going inland was risky; after all what was the fun of having left the jungle in Africa to push inland again, — into the deep forests of the north? But still, millennia later, some of us might have trekked northwards where it was cooler and more temperate.

So moving east and following the sea shores, at a time when the sea level might have been 100 meters lower, our ancestors finally came to the Indian subcontinent – where the shores dip south again – as if it was an obstacle to move further east. May be that’s how India had become a major stopover place of migration for a long time.

Present genetic research might be vindicating that theory — to the fact that the greatest genetic variation in the world is in Africa (this denotes that our species had been present over there for the longest time). And India is the second next place where that variation is most. This should shed light on the tremendous number of tribes, which had trekked through the Subcontinent, settled there and later moved further east to colonize South China, South East Asia, and the Pacific islands.

And Homo Sapiens took the cue from their ancestors and trod east along that same beaten path once again.

Could this vast and long settlement, coupled by recent migration in the Indian subcontinent explain the various tribes and people found there? They had time to evolve, to go to war, to commit the unimaginable before the emergence of reason and the final concept of ‘live and let live’. May be each tribe had its own beliefs, deities and gods. And after tens of thousands of years of interaction, of give and take, the belief in a common destiny was inevitable. It was realized that perpetual war would never bring peace or happiness. One may wonder whether this long pre-historical existence and adaptation was the fertile ground for the final emergence of the forest religion Hinduism, whose origin still eludes us.

Modern Concepts

In that vast land it was natural that those African tribes had somehow devolved around two regions and finally come to be known as the Ancestral North Indians and the Ancestral South Indians. Whereas the latter had stayed put, and the genes had not migrated, the former had had contacts across the Hindu Kush with people of the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It could have been a two-way traffic. That was the state of affairs for a long time. But since the past 4000 years, the Southern and Northern people had mixed and exchanged genes. (It is revealing that this occurred when other civilizations elsewhere in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Summeria, China, and the Americas had started to flourish. It was as if the signal was given to all people around the world to rise to greater heights — and to start moving again). During that time political, social and religious creeds were being disseminated around by the males. They constituted the ‘elite recruitment’; they contributed little to genetic variation.

And as genetics makes great strides towards discovering new truths, it is realized that presently some 60 to 70% of the genes of the Indian population are now of common descent and present in all the peoples of the land, transcending across that recent four thousand years of historical, religious and social segregation and creeds. It is being even suggested that no ‘race’ or subrace could lay claim to any linguistic purity. History and geography could have helped to fashion our psychology, gods and biases, but genetics is saying that no one is better or worse than or different from others.

In this genetic revelation it is found that the female genes are more spread than the male; this may be logical because the warring and conquering tribes of prehistory (and of modern times) would kill the male and carry the females away as a bounty, as brides or slaves to distant lands, hence spreading the maternal genetic inheritance. And the female did also carry her language and phonetics with her. Hence the hybridisation of race and languages was inevitable. Oppenheimer, a geneticist, analysing the works of many of his peers came to the conclusion: ’In simple terms, India acted as an incubator of early genetic differentiation of modern humans moving out of Africa.’

In decades to come we will perhaps discover new truths about our common past as genetics has its heyday. Meanwhile we will always be looking beyond the horizon, hoping for greater fun, excitement, challenges, happiness and comfort.

Already we are scanning deep space for exo-planets and new frontiers for emigration, if ever our blue planet becomes too polluted for the survival of our species.

Maybe one day yonder sun will be yellowier and mellower; we would just be moving out – yet again!

  • Published in print edition on 7 August 2015

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