Manav was floating in the darkness. He was so high up, that the earth below him looked like a round blue ball suspended in space. For a moment, he thought the earth was wearing a mask.
A mask like the one he and his family used to put on when they cleaned their home before Diwali.
He blinked. He looked again. No mask. Earth wearing a mask was too much of a stretch, even for a dream. For this was surely a dream.
Earth wasn’t a living thing who would wear a mask. Only idiots believed in stuff like the Gaia hypothesis – that the earth was one complex planet-sized living organism, and everything on and around earth, such as humans, animals, insects, plants, trees, rocks, oceans, the atmosphere… all of it was part of this one system. What utter bullshit.
Manav started laughing at the absurdness of it all, when he felt a slight jerk. Wiping the smile off his face, he started to look around. Again He felt a small tug. He was being pulled downward. Before he could comprehend what was happening, he plummeted rapidly towards the earth.
The earth was expanding below him, as he zoomed towards it. He could do nothing to break the fall. He fell past the satellites orbiting the earth and the debris floating around it. The descent was so dizzying that he closed his eyes.
Air whooshed past his ears. He remembered there’s no sound in space. He must’ve entered the atmosphere. He cautiously opened his eyes and saw that he was inside a cloud, whooshing through it. He popped out from the bottom of the cloud, and could see the ground rising to meet him. He was frightened, he closed his eyes again.
However, he felt as if he was slowing down. He opened his eyes, and found himself in a intersection, roads criss-crossing around him, surrounded by tall buildings. The streets were deserted; all the shops and offices were closed. He was surprised; he had spent so much time stuck in the traffic at this intersection.
The scene changed. It was a weird sensation. He stood rooted to the spot, but everything around him changed. He was in another area, surrounded by smaller, residential buildings now. Again, everything was closed, and not a soul stirred anywhere.
Another change of scene. Industrial area. Huge Factories, large godowns, enormous shades. All closed. No workers in sight. The machines silent, the chimney’s not releasing the usual toxic fumes into the air, the pipes not pumping any industrial waste into the water streams, which had become clean. The ever present acrid smells were completely missing, and the air was miraculously breathable.
The scenes kept changing, but slowly instead of noting absence, he started noting what was present. Bird songs. The sparrows long lost from the cities chirruping in streets. Animals roaming in city streets. Dolphins resurfacing in the once-polluted rivers.
Finally he drifted through the buildings, flats, houses, shacks… He saw people confined inside. He could not interact with them, but he felt their fear, their helplessness, their anger, panic, boredom… Some pandemic was raging in the streets, and no one was allowed outside.
Their gods, their religions had failed them. Science was struggling to cope. There were a few heroes trying to help the people, working in hospitals and labs, or feeding the poor, helping the needy, spreading hope, but they were too few by far.
Most of the people were hiding in their homes, waiting for the things to go back to normal, so that they could resume their wanton destruction, consumption and plundering of ecological resources, waiting to resume the cycle of hatred and indifference towards their brethren.
And suddenly Manav realized that he had actually seen the earth wearing a mask. It was time for cleaning. The earth was cleaning filth off its surface, and this was just the beginning.
This was not the first time the earth had done this. The instruments had changed, but the purpose was always the same. Harmony and Balance.
Sometimes it was achieved with a space rock, sometimes an ice-age… This time the means were two-fold. Ecological and biological. One bought about by the humans, and one made by nature. Greenhouse gases, global warming, climate change, and a virus.
Unless humans changed their ways, and helped balance the system, they were part of the problem, and would be eliminated. The system would continue functioning in complete harmony, without humans. The system named Gaia. Mother earth.
When Manav woke up the next day, he was feeling gloomy for no discernible reason. He had forgotten all about the dream. He made coffee, and opened the paper. As he skimmed through it, he glanced at a small news item on one of the inside page.
A new virus called Covid-19 had been detected in Wuhan, China. The news did not interest him. He was in India, pretty far away from the virus, 2019 was about to end, and he had big plans for the coming year.