Isabel and the aghoris

Outsiders may view them with the same horror as a vegetarian reacting to the terrified shriek of an animal being slaughtered for meat or a ritual sacrifice. Or a suckling pig roasted whole and served with an apple stuck in its rictus. Or meat shops festooned with skinned carcasses. Different things disgust or horrify different people.

But the aghoris in India freely follow the strange customs of their tribe that most people might find revolting. And people who live around the areas they inhabit – Indians who don’t share these customs – apparently let them be. They believe the aghoris are merely following their karmic paths.

Is this indifference? It could be, but it probably isn’t. It’s more likely acceptance. Or deep-rooted fatalism. It is the belief that aghoris are born into or adopt this life for a purpose that can’t be rationally explained, but can be spiritually understood in terms of karma and rebirth.

The aghoris haven’t been corralled with the goal of integrating them into the dominant culture, if there is one. They retain their identity. Joining the mainstream is an individual choice and happens organically. Maybe this is true freedom?

So far, the government hasn’t tried to homogenise India and has largely stuck with ‘unity in diversity,’ the phrase used by Jawaharlal Nehru to describe us. Social engineering may only deracinate them, so they are left worse off, unless specific measures to rehabilitate them are put in place beforehand. This is difficult because there are too many groups clamouring for government support. Unfortunately this gives opportunists room to prey on their ignorance and defencelessness.

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I heard about the documentary on the aghoris on CNN from someone living in the US. A man of Indian origin working in the US, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, had been fatally shot in Kansas just a few days before the program was aired. The Hindu community in the US was afraid that all Hindus would be seen through the lens of this documentary and violence against them would increase. At the time I shared their fears. It occurred to me a little later that they were only concerned about how it made them look, about how this perception could endanger their lives. To be fair, I would’ve had the same concerns if I lived there.

Even so, I wish someone had spoken up for the aghoris: “Let them be. Why ridicule them? They have not harmed anyone. They have never forced their beliefs on anyone. They haven’t threatened anyone who has criticised or mocked their religion. Targeting people who won’t pick up arms and retaliate – what a cowardly thing to do.”

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Isabel, a girl born and raised here in Bangalore, spent a few hours with aghoris while travelling in Varanasi with friends. She refers to them respectfully as aghori babas.

She and her friends sat with them peacefully smoking chillum. They talked about Life. One baba said, “What do you take from this life? Nothing. We learn to live with nothing.”

This is Isabel’s take on aghori babas:

They leave everything and go through life not wanting anything. They connect with God this way. I feel they do a job like what undertakers and gravediggers do for society. They respect the dead and don’t recoil from them.  

It’s a myth that they all eat human flesh. Very, very few of them do. They just apply the ash from burnt bodies on themselves like how tribes put on war paint.

Many of them are there by choice, they come leaving families behind to live this way. All are not born there. I met people who talked about homes and families elsewhere … I don’t remember seeing women … 

They are nomadic. They move around quite a lot. I met them in Manali and in Calcutta too. They are a community. The younger people are expected to take care of the old.

Every spring many of them go to Kailash on a pilgrimage for Shiva’s blessings.

To my questions she replied:

Local people give them their space, they don’t interfere.

They’re confident – other people’s opinions of their religion don’t make them insecure.

Her acceptance, her lack of censure of any sort, moved me. She saw right through to their core. She shrugged it off as just being Indian. Her Christian values of compassion and love had blended with values she had imbibed from other religions. From Hindus, acceptance of all life situations as arising from past karma; from Muslims, the idea of brotherhood, which she extended to encompass all human beings; from Buddhists, inner quietude and the ability to live in harmony with others.

They never asked us for money. They accepted food and provisions. They made tea and shared it with everyone. 

The older ones don’t like being treated like tourist attractions. They refuse to be photographed. They say you’re capturing a part of their soul. But the younger ones don’t mind because they’re used to cell phones…

Of course, Isabel didn’t get herself photographed with the aghoris. She wouldn’t impose on them. She would consider it an affront to their dignity.

May her tribe increase.

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the kohinoor diamond

The Supreme Court has disposed of a petition to bring the kohinoor diamond back to India. The Court isn’t going to interfere with the diplomatic process that this would involve.

The kohinoor was discovered in Andhra Pradesh in India in the 13th century. Or maybe it was Krishna’s legendary shyamantakamani. There’s plenty written about its sad history. In 1849, 13-year-old Maharaja Duleep Singh was coerced by Dalhousie into sailing to England to give it to Queen Victoria as a ‘gift.’ All of thirteen, did the poor kid have a choice? The stone is now in the Tower of London.

Personally, I’m not sure we must try to bring it back to India. These are my reasons:

  • There are elaborate arrangements in the Tower of London for guarding it. Can we keep it equally safe here? How many crores in taxpayers’ money will that cost?
  • Excited crowds will come to view it and there will be airport level security, or worse. It won’t be fun visiting it. After standing in queues in lots of tourist places, I know.
  • There could be tragic stampedes when hordes of people are funnelled into the necessarily small display area in front of a glass case.
  • It could be a target for terror attacks.
  • It is flawed. It has yellow flecks deep inside that prevent it from shining by refracting light. It is lacklustre. Only flawless diamonds have value as far as I know. It may be just a glorified lump of carbon.
  • It is cursed.
  • It is not beautiful despite attempts over centuries to chisel it into shape, remove its flaws and place it in flattering display cases.
  • It has been through the hands of the likes of Alauddin Khilji, Malik Kafur, Aurangazeb and Dalhousie and gathered a great deal of negative energy. That’s what a crystal healer told me. Queen Victoria apparently confessed to her daughter that she disliked wearing it.

When he visited India in July 2010, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, said about returning the diamond, “If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty.” Very true! They can’t afford to return things to their rightful owners, so they won’t. ‘Finders, keepers’ is a favourite English saying, though it has its origins in ancient Roman law. The ethical – and perhaps legal – problem is in defining when something is considered ‘found.’ Just like what exactly constitutes a ‘gift!’

A diamond has to be perfect, flawless, brilliant and hypnotising to be called a jewel. Lacking all these attributes and merely being one of the world’s largest lacklustre diamonds is not enough to be a gem. Five countries want it, so there’s a demand of sorts, so nobody is going to say “the emperor has no clothes!”

Maybe we should have one of those exciting referendums that are held countrywide for every confounded issue nowadays: Indians! Do you want the kohinoor back? Yes or No?

mean sojourn time* of threescore years and ten

When I was four I used to pester my great-grandmother to tell me how her mother looked.

“Did she look like you?”

“No, no.”

“Like Bapama?” That is, her daughter, my father’s mother.

“No…”

“Did she look like me?”

“No, you look like your ma.”

My great-grandmother was probably fed up with this obsessive questioning. She would cannily switch to a subject that always got my attention: the flooding of the Netravati river when she was a young girl and lived on its banks. When red water forced its way noisily into her house and carried away everything in it, even the big tin of chakli she had spent the whole of the previous afternoon frying. The lid had come off and the crisp, crunchy chakli had floated out and become soggy. The slo-mo image of red water dragging the tin out of reach of her outstretched hands made me sigh with sadness. Much later, I wondered why we never talked about how she escaped, or what happened to her family.

Through my early school years I realised that if I tried to imagine my ancestors, the same face would appear in my imagination no matter how many great-great-greats I added. It would always be my great-grandmother’s face.

I once asked my younger sister if she could do it. Her eyes widened as she tried to, then she shook her head. We both looked at our youngest sister expectantly. She screamed, “Don’t, you’re scaring me!” We were taken aback. “You’re making me think of lots and lots and lots of old, bent people everywhere, with bald heads and no teeth and sad faces, walking with sticks!” Phew! She definitely had loads of imagination.

Even now I can’t go very far back in time. In my mind’s eye I always see what other people have already created in movies and documentaries. Known Earth history dates back to 590 million years, the period called the Cambrian age that lasted more than 50 million years. And that is only the known history of the Earth. Prior to that there was an age called the Pre-cambrian age that makes up seven-eighths of Earth’s history, about which very little is known! I can’t imagine any of this. To me, visualising anything beyond 5,000 years is a stretch.

It is the same with space. The Milky way can be seen as a clear strip across the sky. I don’t have to struggle to imagine it. I have seen Andromeda, our nearest galactic neighbour, both with the naked eye and through a telescope. Apparently, there are many more galaxies in the universe. If I try to imagine them I see a scattering of stardust fading away into the distance. In my mind’s eye it is astonishingly close to the edge of the Milky way, because I simply can’t go that far, distance-wise, in my imagination.

When I think of an atom I can understand quarks combining to form hadrons, i.e. the protons and neutrons, of the nucleus. Then a vague picture of the Hadron collider flits across my mind for a split second and then it hits me that I can’t imagine beyond quarks. Of course, it’s a highly specialised subject and I don’t expect to understand it, but the main feeling I’m left with is that human beings are actually in a straightjacket with very little wiggle room, in a way. This life, this reality, is a narrow band on the spectrum of all there is.

The importance that we human beings give ourselves individually and our countries collectively is so disproportionate to everything in the universe: galaxies to quarks to historic time. Add to that, all the species of animals, plants and other living/extinct organisms, the broad category to which we belong. We’re upstarts and we have an infant’s belief that the world revolves around us. In the face of all that is known isn’t that ludicrous? We are not masters of our fate in terms of birth and death, the two most significant events of our lives. We are mere accidents, like everything else on earth. Just a coming together of molecules in a certain form in the primordial soup, a form that has stumbled upon a code to perpetuate itself.

There are people like Hans Rosling who have said this is the best time to be alive. Going by statistics, it is true. We know terrible things are happening in different parts of the world. But people are happy with their lot in other parts of the world, that we don’t hear about. Regardless of events that are heavily publicised on television and awful stories that fill newspapers, I think there’s something to be said for taking a Pollyanna view of things considering how brief our sojourn on earth is.

Psalm 90, verse 10:

The days of our years are threescore years and ten;
and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,
yet is their strength labor and sorrow;
for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

*The mean sojourn time for an object in a system is a mathematical term for the amount of time an object is expected to spend in a system before leaving the system for good.

Believer, CNN: Aslan and the Aghoris

Reza Aslan is a theologian. He makes videos for CNN on what he wants to share with the world about obscure religious practices that he researches.

His latest video is about Aghoris, a sect numbering about 72,000 according to the US-based Joshua Project that supports Christian conversions in India.

https://joshuaproject.net/people_groups/16178/IN

The Aghoris are a sect of Shaivites, or Shiva-worshippers. Their primary deity is Dattatreya, who is an incarnation of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – the holy trinity of Sanatana Dharma representing creation, preservation and destruction – united in a single body.

They basically maintain that all opposites are ultimately illusory. All the things they do that have been excitedly captured by Reza Aslan are ritualistic expressions of this one perfectly sound belief: all opposites are ultimately illusory. The Aghoris are strange, but there are so many types of strange in the world, and this is just one of them.

Technically, the word Hindu is a geographical reference used by Persians and Greeks for people living beyond the Indus river. There is no such religion as Hinduism. I think ‘Hinduism’ is British for whatever Robert Clive and co. didn’t understand about Indian culture.

Our faith is actually called Sanatana Dharma. In some languages – like Spanish – they don’t ask “What is your name?” but rather “What do they call you?” ‘Hinduism’ is what other people call Sanatana Dharma. That’s fine. It’s shorter.

Shiva is a Hindu god. He is the same as the Greek Dionysus. Dionysus = Dios of Nysa, Nysa being a place near Jalalabad in Afghanistan. He is also the same as Bacchus. I don’t know if these are established facts; I’m quoting from ‘A Brief History of India’ by the historian Alain Daniélou that I read a few years ago.

Every religion has mythology and rituals that don’t make sense to the rest of the world. I don’t snigger when my Catholic friends take the holy communion and refer to the tiny piece of bread as the body of Christ and the sip of wine as the blood of Jesus. It is a ritual that is meaningful to them. Would I ridicule it as mental cannibalism? Certainly not. A religion is much more than its mythology, rituals and iconography.

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This is a picture of Dattatreya, the form in which the Aghoris worship God. Are we going to go “ha ha ha, he’s got three heads, hee hee hee, he’s got six arms?” What idea does this image represent? That’s what matters.

Reza Aslan was born Muslim, converted to Christianity for a bit, then re-converted to Islam. He has said in an interview that he would be happy if one of his children wanted to have a bar mitzvah. This sounds like the teachings of the Bahá’í faith: unity of God, unity of religion and unity of humanity; that the entire human race is one soul and one body; that the fundamental purpose of religion is to promote the unity of the human race. I hope this is what he intends to do on CNN as a responsible theologian, not just another person making a documentary.

I think we should let people – including those belonging to obscure faiths – follow their own brands of spirituality and religion without judging them. Shouldn’t that courtesy be extended to people of all faiths? If people down the ages had accepted and respected others’ beliefs instead of disparaging them and attacking their followers, human history might have taken a more peaceful course.

blogging on wordpress x 5 years

I thought I would write about parents and children, and people would read what I wrote, and I would thus contribute in a small measure to making India a better place for children. I would write about  common mental illnesses, so lay people could recognise the symptoms and seek treatment early.

Naïve? Sure, yes.

img_5005A young patient started this blog for me five years ago, in March 2012. It was meant primarily for writing about child-raising and mental health. But I was scared to write. I busied myself putting up photographs and other less threatening things on it. It was nearly one year later that I dared to take the plunge. A very simple topic: Being parents. Something I had experience with. After that it got easier.

I had written a series of articles on mental health for a local newspaper a couple of years before. Someone suggested I list their links on this blog. So I did. Someone else suggested I write a short gist for each article as well. I did that too.

Usually, after making a diagnosis and starting treatment, I schedule a session to explain the biology underlying the problem in simple terms, how medicines work, and possible side effects. Directing patients to these articles helped some of them come in more prepared for these sessions.

Many people fear they may “turn into a different person if my mind is not under my control” and are afraid to take psychiatric medicines. So, I wrote a series of short blog posts about taking psychiatric medicines and sometimes referred patients to them.

Over time I started liking my blog. It became a place I could visit, a place where I could express myself. Here, I was obliged to clarify things in my mind before I wrote, unlike a diary where I might allow sloppy thinking, half-baked ideas and excessive emotion. As it is very easy to be misunderstood I try to be precise, which takes away from the spontaneity and raw quality of writing that bloggers appreciate. Sharing unexamined thoughts is just not me.

I didn’t write for nearly two years as I didn’t feel the need to. In November 2016 I wrote ‘Change’ to clear my head, because I didn’t want to endlessly bore my friends with my confusion over this phase of my life.

I’m a bit of a news junkie and have impressions about everyone, from Trump and Nieto in the west to Duterte, Putin and Kim in the east. I have impressions about stuff that happens all over the world too. But I don’t understand enough of it to permit myself to opine on them. Frankly, everyone – from ordinary people like me to important people like the president of the United States – shouldn’t be putting unprocessed thoughts on public display. Stupid people might swallow them whole and act on them, like Adam Purinton of Kansas.

Besides, I think news reports are often some sort of a red herring, the real news being closer to what you read between the lines. After all, news channels and newspapers are owned and controlled by vested interests. Things sometimes don’t add up, and you know you are being had. There are so many things you read and hear that float around like space junk in your head, but can’t be neutralised because of missing bits of information. Random example: Colombia – Juan Manuel Santos – Nobel peace prize – FARC – José  Luis Mendieta – forgiveness/punishment … After some time you just let them go.

Of late, I’ve been in a nostalgic mood. Things are too quiet around the house with the kids having flown the nest. That’s why I’ve been writing almost exclusively about the time I lived on different ships over a six-year period. Those days now seem like a wonderful lifetime lived centuries ago. I’ve been sharing the links to these posts with everyone: cousins, my high school whatsapp group, and friends made over the years in different places.

The upshot of all this is that I’ve connected again with some nice people I had lost touch with, because they’ve called up or messaged to tell me how much they enjoyed the posts. Then, there’s my 13-year-old niece who said, “Aunty, I didn’t know all this had happened to you!” It was a revelation to her that I had been living for a long time doing other things, before she met me thirteen years ago!

This month I complete five years of blogging, irregular though it has been. I really need to thank wordpress for giving me this space. Blogging has given me a lot of relief, and pleasure too. There are so many bloggers whose posts I’ve enjoyed reading, or learnt from.

My technophobia is starting to feel like ingratitude. I guess it’s time I re-examined my attitude towards technology. Ah, I can almost hear my children’s sighs of relief!

the bhavana case – or should it be called the sunil case?

On the night of February 17th a young actor from Kerala, Bhavana, was raped by six men. She was in her car, being driven from Kochi to Thrissur. It was a planned attack by her driver, Martin, and her former driver, Sunil, whose services she had terminated as she had come to know that he was a suspect in a murder case.

Why did Martin agree to Sunil’s plan instead of warning his employer? What is the equation between these two men apart from the fact that Sunil got Martin his job?

People trust their drivers. To the best of my knowledge, such horrendous incidents are not commonplace, though I have seen a significant number of women in clinical practice who have been abused by drivers and servants as children. Now, mothers often go along when drivers drop off and pick up their kids from school. This practice has been prevalent for many years now.

There was no way Bhavana could have suspected Martin, not even when he got out of the car to investigate the staged accident. How can we run background checks on our employees before hiring them, because nearly everyone can produce a fake good reference? And how reliable are our instincts, especially when dealing with experienced conmen?

Is this case about Bhavana or about Sunil? Bhavana was the unfortunate victim. She didn’t do anything wrong. Is Sunil a case of antisocial personality disorder – otherwise known as psychopathy?

  • police say he’s a rowdy sheeter
  • is a suspect in another murder case
  • has planned and executed this incident
  • no remorse, no empathy

Sunil’s sister has said to the media that “he doesn’t share good relations with the family since he turned 17.” Further information is not available, but it seems unlikely that they had only minor disagreements.

Psychopaths make up about 1% of the general population and as much as 25 % of male offenders in correctional settings. Dr. Robert Hare, the psychologist who came up with the 20-item test called the Hare Psychopathy checklist, says psychopaths may be a result of an evolutionary survival mechanism. This article appeared in ‘The Independent’ in 2012.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/psychopathy-may-be-a-result-of-adaptive-evolution-rather-than-a-disorder-says-inventor-of-the-a7025706.html

Is he right? Are people’s aspirations, ambitions and need to survive in an increasingly expensive and competitive world generating adaptive mechanisms that belong in the *psychopathy checklist? Maybe not the full-blown psychopath personality, but just traits getting exaggerated?

Dr. Liane Leedom, a psychiatrist, and Linda Hartoonian Almas, an educator with criminal justice experience, who has worked as a police officer, have explained psychopathy from a behavioural sciences perspective. They say it is not an adaptation but an aberration. This is how they explain it.

There are four social behaviour systems involved in adaptation:

  • attachment system
  • caregiving system
  • dominance system
  • sexual systems.

Psychopathy is associated with excessive sexual responses, lack of caregiving, and aberrant dominance responses. ‘Caregiving’ behaviour, however, may be used to gain power and dominance, so the recipient of the ‘care’ may be fooled until the psychopath’s objective is achieved.

Here’s the link to their article:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573869/

In 2006, during a genetic imaging study in which he was a control subject, Dr. James Fallon, professor of psychiatry at UC Irvine, discovered that his brain was similar to the brains of psychopaths!

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/03/how-i-discovered-i-have-the-brain-of-a-psychopath

In 2013 he gave a TED talk on exploring the mind of a killer. He mentioned the interaction of risk genes, brain damage and the environment, that result in psychopathic behaviour.

https://www.ted.com/talks/jim_fallon_exploring_the_mind_of_a_killer

This is his conclusion regarding why he became a successful neuroscientist and family man instead of a psychopath.

“But why, in the light of the fact I have all of the biological markers for psychopathy, including a turned off limbic system, the high risk genetic alleles, and the attendant behaviours, including well over half of those listed in the psychopathy tests and low emotional empathy, did I turn out to be a successful professor and family man? One most likely reason is that although I have the genetic makeup of a “born” psychopath, some of those very same “risk” genes in someone showered with love (versus abuse or abandonment), from childbirth through the critical first few years of life, appear to offset the psychopathy-inducing effects of the other “risk” genes.”

As I’ve said in an earlier blog post, being born with the risk genes for psychopathy doesn’t mean the condition has to manifest.

https://drshyamalavatsa.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/teenagers-and-crime/

To think that one man’s warped mind came up with a callous, inhuman and remorseless plan that needlessly devastated an innocent young woman. There are strong rumours that Sunil was paid to do this, but the fact remains that he had no qualms about going ahead with it.

*Psychopathy Checklist:

Arrogant and Deceitful Interpersonal Style

Glibness/Superficial charm

Grandiose sense of self-worth

Pathological lying

Conning/Manipulative

Deficient Affective Experience

Lack of remorse or guilt

Shallow affect

Callous/Lack of empathy

Failure to accept responsibility

Lack of realistic long-term goals

Impulsive and Irresponsible Behavioural Style

Need for stimulation/Proneness to boredom

Parasitic lifestyle

Impulsivity

Irresponsibility

ocean to ocean in small steps

A small boat came alongside our ship when we were waiting to enter the Miraflores locks of the Panama canal. A couple of men climbed up the pilot ladder to the deck with mangoes to sell. They didn’t want to be paid in US dollars, they wanted Camay bath soap! So we bartered – three small mangoes for a bar of soap!

Sailing through the Panama canal is one of those experiences you enjoy at different levels, from the practical and cognitive, to the sublime. So many thoughts and reactions crowd into your head and heart all at once.img_5562

The ship’s engines were switched off while mules pulled her into the first chamber of the Miraflores locks. In earlier times real, live mules used to haul barges through canals. The locomotives that have replaced them are called mules too.

Two huge gates – the valves – closed behind us and the gates in front of us opened. The water level gradually rose by gravity to reach the level in the chamber ahead. Then the ship was pulled forward into that chamber. The gates behind us closed. Our ship was raised 85 feet from the Pacific ocean through this system of locks. What a clever idea!

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The ship sailed through the narrow confines of the beautiful Gaillard cut, then through the vast expanse of Gatun lake. It took all day – the Panama canal is 77 km long. Watching from the fo’c’sle it all seemed to happen in slow motion, every operation being done with utmost caution and precision.

From the Gatun lake she was gently lowered 85 feet into the Atlantic, stepping down bit by bit through the Gatun locks. On land, we drive over steel and concrete bridges to cross rivers; here we crossed land by using water as a bridge!

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The first time our ship transited the Panama canal, I was awestruck by the fact that people even came up with such an audacious idea. They used 60 million tonnes of dynamite to blast the Gaillard cut in the land mass of the isthmus! Then, they diverted a river to create a lake to fill it up. I marvelled at the design and engineering skill involved in its execution.

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The beauty of the passage itself was overwhelming. The Gaillard cut passes through virgin forest. The land is green and you can hear the twitter of birds. It is very quiet, very peaceful. There’s even a little waterfall somewhere along the Gaillard cut! Its tranquility filled my heart with gratitude for the Earth and the power that created it. Perfect. It was a deeply spiritual experience, sitting alone on a bitt in the fo’c’sle, absorbing it all.

I read up what was available on board of its fascinating history. It was built by the Americans and the French in the early 1900s with mainly trade in mind. Ferdinand de Lesseps, the man who supervised the digging out of tonnes of sand to create the Suez Canal, was commissioned to create it. They apparently thought his experience at the Suez was adequate to design and build any canal. Dynamiting rock, changing the course of the Chagres river, building dams – so much more was involved in building the Panama canal – that it now seems ridiculous that they gave the responsibility to Lesseps who wasn’t even an engineer! Still, they muddled through it and finally succeeded. Wow!

A ship bound for Rotterdam from Peru – like ours was – would have had to sail south along the coast of Chile, navigate the Magellan straits, then sail north, cross the equator and head for the English Channel, had there been no Panama canal. What a waste of time, effort and fuel! The Panama Canal cuts time, effort and cost to a third of what the long route would need. Very practical.

That human beings have these absolutely wonderful brains, initiative and tenacity to create this! This is progress, with tangible benefits to many and harm to none that I can think of … Hold it! So far, I had been viewing the Panama canal only through the eyes of a sailor. A sailor on a commercial vessel. Seeing a lot of natural beauty is simply an unintended perk of the profession.

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Gatun lake

The builders of the canal had blasted a passage through a rainforest! What about the people, animals and birds that lived there? A dam had been built across the Chagres river to create Gatun lake, as the canal needs lots of water. They must have displaced whole communities when they flooded the river valley? I had noticed the dredging apparatus on Gatun lake and been told the lake was silting up all the time. Why? Deforestation, loose soil flowing into the lake? What about the thousands of people who died of disease or due to accidents during its construction?

The sheen of the Panama canal transit was dulled a little as these thoughts crossed my mind. Sigh… I wish I could be an ostrich about it. On the other hand, I was enjoying the Panama canal nearly eighty years after it was constructed and the terrible circumstances of its construction had passed into history. What I saw was a beautiful canal and a well-run system for the passage of ships. I should probably leave it at that.