I believe in balancing the natural world’s chaos and order with the industrial world’s order and chaos.
For the past two decades, my wife and I have returned to India every other year with the intention of remaining connected to family and educating our children about a home that is considerably different from their American birthplace. These regular sojourns have shaped my worldview of orderly chaos.
Last summer we began our subcontinental railway journey in Kolkata. Traveling west to India’s middle, my family and I slept through the quiet night as the train embraced the earth like a lover traversing his beloved’s landscape.
At the hint of daylight, I opened the heavy steel doors that in the night secured the train from unsavory types. A sudden gust of morning air awoke me to the many shades of India’s green: banana-tree-frond green, rice-paddy green, lotus-leaf green, vines-creeping-up-decrepit-houses green, slime-layered-pond green, and overgrown-forest green.
Throughout the rest of the trip, I tried to make sense of the mishmash wonder that is India. So much of what we saw reflected the surface shine of ubiquitous shopping malls, sparkling petrol stations, buzzing call centers, MBA-minting business schools, and C++-programming tech schools. But we didn’t stay long in any of those modern temples of the free market. Instead we found ourselves lingering in places of worship ranging from solitary roadside shrines to a national park where Bengal tigers were protected.
There was a time in India when tigers were nearly as widespread as temples. A century ago, more than 40,000 members of the Panthera tigris species thrived in an ecosystem that balanced harmony and tension. The subcontinent’s religions encouraged humans to venerate all living beings, albeit at a safe distance. Although occasionally tigers disturbed the order of villages and carried away a calf or a young child, the natural boundaries demarcated a fenceless equilibrium: human order was chaos for the tiger, and the tiger’s order was chaos for humans.
Today, perhaps less than 1,000 tigers exist in India; the exact number living in wildlife reserves is unknown. During our two days in Kanha National Park, the chase after the endangered cat was thrilling. As the sun set on our first day, there were no sightings of orange-and-black stripes padding through the jungle. But forest green came alive. This shade of green, which was once for me nothing more than a paint option on a car purchase, shifted from sunny lime yellow to menacing black. By the end of the day, I was relieved to have my family safely tucked away inside a sturdy cottage, dreaming of tigers and swatting away mosquitoes. The next morning a steady rain soaked us humans and our fellow creatures; as sambar deer, langur monkeys, dancing peacocks, wild bison, and my very domesticated family collectively sought refuge from the monsoon, Kanha’s hundred or so tigers were disappearing toward a mythic state — deeply felt but increasingly invisible in the soggy blur of order and chaos.
A few weeks after trying to restore order to a neglected garden, Rajesh C. Oza, an organization alignment consultant based in Palo Alto, California, wrote this travel reflection, from a chaotic room overflowing with paper.
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