The omens on the path to hell appear to be beautiful. Last week, the sea waves swelled with light, transformed the shoreline into something out of a dream. I was too far from the coast and had too much lonesomeness in my bones – lonesomeness is the anti-venom, I am finding as the years pass, of adventure – to go and see them for myself. I envied those who did that night, envied them more than only the sight of it. Envied whatever it was – ease of companionship or with isolation, proximity, some uncomplicated impulse – that let them have it while I seethed, my eyes and feet dry while longing burned in me.
I had seen bioluminescence in sand once, when a zoologist showed it to me by digging his fingers close to the shoreline, conjuring a memory of how he had once brushed some off a nesting Olive Ridley turtle and found that it shimmered. “Sea creature on sea creature,” he had said. Magical. I hadn’t known at the time that bioluminescence in large quantities is dangerous, a sign of the apocalypse. I had known by the time the shore lit up, but the truth is that my sense of marvel would have been no less pure had I been in Thiruvanmiyur that night. “We used to see it in the water at Batu Ferringhi sometimes,” my sister told me, reaching almost twenty-five years into our childhoods. I had no memory of this, and rued this too. Awareness changes nothing of the ache of being drawn to a thing knowing it’s as good as a drowning.
Rivers covered in pretty water hyacinths indicate heavy metal poisoning, and clog the flow. Scenic casuarina and aromatic eucalyptus trees drain the soil, selfishly hoarding nutrients while other flora wilt. Botanists in the UK recently announced that cycads, palm-like plants which thrive in heavy CO2, have made a comeback. A male cone, followed by a female cone, have appeared, making reproduction possible. They were common 280 million years ago when Earth had more carbon dioxide naturally. Like the bioluminescence that embroidered Chennai’s waves, all these things appear to be more beautiful and praiseworthy than they actually are.
Solastalgia is the word for emotional and mental distress over climate change. It could replace “sapiosexual” in dating app bios. There’s also a nihilistic edge to it, something that suggests you’re willing to be spontaneous with whatever time’s left. To be solastalgic says, “Kiss me before my lungs collapse”.
It’s terrible to find beauty in such devastation, isn’t it? I’m asking because I’m not sure. Studies show that the carbon footprints of tourists account for almost 10% of carbon emissions. Wanderlust is bringing the end of humanity closer, but we can’t seem to stop wanting. Rainforests burn and glaciers dissolve, and still there is this hunger – to see it all, to feel it all, even if it means we are going to be the full stop after a very long, very irresponsible sentence. I’m telling you: I’d have gone to the seaside that night and been solastalgic, but there would have been goosebumps on my skin from something other than the salt-tongued wind.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on August 29th 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.