27 March 2015

In praise of ‘lesser’ creatures

This is the twenty fifth article in a series I am writing for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The series is for children. Adults consider yourselves warned...you might re-discover a child within you! Scroll down for other articles in this series. 

Think of pencils.  Think of lead pencils.  Color pencils.  Pencils that come with an eraser fixed to one end.  Now think of using them.  Points get broken.  When this happens we have to sharpen either with a sharpener or a blade or knife.  The points break again or else they become dull, requiring us to sharpen them again and again.  Over time the pencil grows short.  Finally they become too short for us to hold.

What happens to those way-too-short pencils, have you wondered?  They fall off tables, roll into corners and are eventually swept away.  They get forgotten. 

Now there was once a man who thought of pencils in a very different kind of way.  Actually he was not thinking of pencils.  He was thinking of the sun, the earth, himself and the passing of years.  He was in prison.  He had enough time to think. He had enough time to write. 

It occurred to him that the earth had gone around the sun ten times since he had been put behind bars.  He realized that if earth and sun could speak and were asked to comment on this observation  (that the earth had gone around the sun ten times), the following observation might be made: ‘it’s nothing…a microscopic span’.  In other words, the earth has gone around the sun so many billions of times that 10 revolutions are hardly worth comment.  To the prisoner, though, it is ten years of his life. 

Now if you are just 10 years old, that’s your entire life.  Imagine being in a small room without a chance to be with friends and family all your life.  If you are 20 years old, that’s half your life.

Anyway, thinking about these things, the prisoner’s thoughts strayed to pencils.   When he had been put in prison he had a pencil, he remembered.  He had used it.  It lasted just a week.  Now if he was asked about it he would have dismissed the question with a question of his own, ‘what’s a week?’  What if the pencil was asked, he wondered.  The pencil would have said, if it could, ‘A whole lifetime!’

Pencils are discarded.  Perhaps it is easy to do this since they are inanimate.  But have you ever wondered if we unconsciously grade living things into categories such as very important, important, less important and unimportant? 

If lesser things (like pencils) and lesser beings (say, ants) are discarded or dismissed simply based on their worth to us then we too can be dismissed, discarded and treated as worthy of the trashcan by people who think they are more important than us and therefore consider us ‘lesser’ creatures. 

For the sun and the earth, 10 years is nothing.  For the prisoner, it’s a long period of time.  If sun and earth were to think about his imprisonment, they might say ‘We have more important things to worry about; what’s 10 years or even 100?’

We are all pencils in someone else’s world, aren’t we?  And we all have pencils, don’t we?  That ant in the sink is a pencil-end, isn’t it?  We can turn the tap and flush it down without feeling bad about it, right?  But then again, if we are pencils, we are also ants, aren’t we?  And if it’s ‘ok’ to wash an ant down a tube or wreck an anthill just like we toss pencil ends into a trashcan, wouldn’t it be as ‘ok’ for someone to brush aside just because that person feels he or she is more important than us? 

If there are creatures deserving the label ‘lesser,’ the chances are that in someone else’s universe we are lesser creatures too.  That’s not a happy thought is it?

Maybe we should think about the sun and the earth a little bit more.  More importantly, perhaps we should think about pencils now and then.  

Other articles in this series


Anonymous said...

So simply written about something very deep.It's the reality.We are all pencils in someone else's world!