My Ancestral History

Three million years ago, one of my ancestors -perhaps under the influence of some intoxicating wild berries or, more likely, to impress some obstinate female- came to the conclusion that to stroll on four feet is not very cool. He tried first to stand on two feet, and then to walk and run on them. According to some experts, it gave him the extra advantage of seeing his foes or prey from a greater distance and also freed his upper limbs to do extra work, thus increasing his chances of survival in his unkind surroundings. He liked this new ability to the extent that today, except for our new offspring, the art of walking on all fours is extinct in humankind; we have lost this dexterity forever.

Walking on two legs, according to experts, increased his chances of survival. I fail to understand why other animals never considered following his footsteps. As it turned out, though, walking on two legs had one great disadvantage. His big furry tail was an impediment in his movements; as time went by, he decided to discard it- which, in my opinion, was a great folly. With one stroke of physical change, a symbol of exquisite beauty, a clear sign of status and a fine exhibit of our underlying emotions was lost to eternity.

Again, nobody exactly knows why he decided to lose his body hair; it is a mystery. What was wrong with furry skin? Maybe it was his Missus who got this bright idea, because we observe that females of our species are still very much dissatisfied about the colour, texture and distribution of their body hair; the whole cosmetic industry is indebted to them for this obsession. As soon as my ancestor got rid of his hair, he started feeling the vagaries of weather and had to don clothing to protect himself. But it could have very well been the opposite, since evolutionists still remain perplexed by the million dollar question: did man shed his hair first and then start to cover himself, or did he start covering himself first and lose his hair as a consequence of that? Whatever may be the case, the entire clothing industry of present day is eternally thankful for this development.

Experts say that, about seventy thousand years ago, one of my ancestors stumbled across a forest fire and realised food tastes better when cooked over flames. I really can’t blame him; we all know this fact. Aroma from a barbeque outlet is infinitely more appetizing than the stench of raw meat from a butcher’s shop, though the material being sold is inherently the same. Fire made my ancestor’s food more varied and digestible. Previously he used to spend hours chewing raw meat, berries and different fruits and plants, but with the knowledge of fire he mastered the art of ‘cooking’, allowing him to eat food in less time. This, in a few thousand years, resulted in a shortened gastrointestinal tract and all the extra energy he obtained by eating ‘home cooked’ food was used in the development of his brain. Well, this is just a hypothesis; I don’t really think this is true. Most of us, as we all know, are more concerned about the wellbeing of our gastrointestinal tract than the maintenance of our intellectual capabilities; this may be why, considering the amount of obesity around, our gastrointestinal tracts nowadays are getting larger and larger, and perhaps our brains have stopped developing as a consequence of that.

Fire also had one additional advantage; it provided my ancestor a tool to ward off predators, increasing his chances of survival in a hostile environment and serving as an inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book , where the hero Mowgli conquers the villain Shere Khan by using his firestick.

My ancestors were still very nomadic, going from place to place in search of food. At night, they took refuge in caves in order to save themselves from predators. If you are forced to remain in a cool, dark and quiet place, you would naturally fall off to sleep; that’s why most of us still spend one third of our life sleeping, with a few lazier exceptions. Sleep was, and still is, as important to us as our food. Logically, in order to survive, we ought to have curtailed the amount of sleep we required, but my ancestors could not care less about the evolutionist law of survival of the fittest. Sleep was very dear to them.

Sleep induced in my ancestors a strange phenomenon. They started to dream. Now, I don’t know for sure whether other animals can dream or not. It is also very difficult to ascertain just by observing a sleeping man what he’s dreaming about. He might be frantically chasing a delectable specimen of the opposite sex, or desperately seeking a place of public convenience to relieve himself- we can never know for sure, unless he decides to wake up and tell us. It only proves that anybody who dreams is capable of imagination. But then, what good is your imagination if you choose not to share it with your fellow human beings? That is the primary reason for me to write this article, as you might have very well guessed. My ancestors solved this problem by developing a language; one that was initially verbal alone, but later could be written as well.

About 12 000 to 10 000 years ago, my ancestors got tired of wandering around. They were always searching for food for themselves and their captive animals which they called cattle. By keeping cattle, my ancestors became the only mammals to drink and sustain themselves from the milk of other mammals on a large scale. That was ingenious; no other animal ever thought about that. Thus, the dairy industry was born.

By that time, they had perfected the technique of cultivating cereals, initiating the farming industry, which could ensure them a continuous food supply. Now they did not have to run around in search of food anymore. I am not sure when God created Adam, but I am quite certain Abel and Cane were born in the era of agriculture, for Cane was a farmer and Abel a shepherd. Cane killed Abel, paving the way for human settlers over human nomads.

My ancestors, descendents of Cane, then built little hamlets and villages, towns and cities, castles and empires. With this development, something changed. The changes in our lifestyle, which used to occur gradually, suddenly started to happen very quickly. From the Agricultural to the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, and now the Technological Revolution, the passage of time has accelerated exponentially, almost as if God has had enough of us and has increased the walking speed on the treadmill of human civilisation.

But, among all this development and progress, where is leisure and happiness? My ancestors, when living in the jungle, used to spend an average of only 4 or 5 hours of their day foraging and hunting for food; the rest of the time they used to socialize, play with their children or simply daydream.You can still see humans doing the same thing in some remote areas of the Amazon jungle. But I can only enjoy this luxury three weeks a year, when I go on a holiday at a great cost to my bank balance.

With the advent of the Agricultural Revolution, my ancestors were worse off with their average working hours, which included time spent on the farm and home increased to 10 or even 12 hours per day. Even then, they thought that they had a better life compared to their nomadic brothers. Over a period of time, my ancestors got so used to the system that they completely forgot that their forefathers used to enjoy a completely different sort of lifestyle; they also never realized that they had paid, in many ways, a far heavier price for this living. Their personal freedom and liberty had been taken away, and they were subservient to the local landlord, the local ruler or the king, from the time of their birth till their death. This state of affairs has persisted to this day; only our masters have changed- except now they’re called governments and multinationals.

Compared to my ancestors three million years ago, I have been working harder all these years to stay alive. But three weeks of lockdown has lifted the curtains from my eyes; I have realized that life could have a much more leisurely pace. Why should there be a deadline for everything? Why should we all be in a hurry? Why should we punish ourselves mercilessly in our quest to achieve a few worldly goals? Why should we not be more compassionate to ourselves and give our body and soul time to relax and unwind?

Thank you, COVID-19, for this insight. Thank you, indeed.

Shahab Javid

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