Learning life lessons at a survival camp

If you can propound freedom of expression, then you should be able to brook some or all of the insult that comes under its garb.


Abhishek Sengupta

Published: Mon 2 Nov 2020, 9:16 AM

So, last week was about spending 24 hours in the wilderness with my colleagues Rahul and Sajjad who gleefully joined me for the filming of our experience as part of a Bear Grylls survival camp, deep into a wadi in Ras Al Khaimah’s Hajar mountains. While that initial glee turned into shock and awe for all of us, the whole (or)deal also came with several life-changing, mind-altering realisations.

More on that later but yes, if you are wondering, it’s a course designed by the same man who’s jumped off cliffs, drank his own urine, and gorged on half-eaten salmon for lunch with none other than Barack Obama, in the name of survival. The same guy who’s made heads of states, famous actors, and average women and men appear rough and tough while braving the odds of nature in his hit reality shows. But beyond the glare of the lights and camera, survival in the wild without food, water, and shelter – the three basic human needs, when you really have to, lies one of the greatest life lessons. And when you do end up surviving, you realise how modest and unappreciated our real necessities are and how thankless we are when we get them in relative abundance.

This is exactly what I found out first-hand while trying to forage in the extremes of the mountains, deboning and defeathering pigeons without a knife and with bare hands, eating worms, sleeping in the cold under the stars, and abseiling down rocky mountains colonised by goats and scorpions s. And the good news is that we survived doing it all. Things we thought we won’t otherwise be able to do. Things we would generally sneer and snicker at. Things we were scared of.

So, the crusty mealworms, dead and dried for days in the sun, tasted wonderfully delightful the morning after despite how it looked and sleeping under the stars became surreal because it let you paint dazzling trails on the moon-washed night canvas despite how deep the cold pierced the bones. And the most nerve-wracking moment came — excuse the gruesome details of it all — when you had to stick your hands down the alimentary canal of a dead pigeon looking for the heart and the flesh covering of the breastbone for dinner after you had to knock its head and wings off with cruel twists and pulls, again with your bare hands. I detested doing it all along because beyond the sheer disgust, the cold blood and the brute gore of it all, the exercise made me feel less human and more heartless. But as the pot boiled over and the pigeon stew dinner cooked along over the raging fire, it also brought me closer to reality reduced to its bare bones. And truth is that if you are one who enjoys a skewer of grilled cubes of meat every other meal, then you must have the gall to stomach the cruelty involved in the killing of that animal too.

That brought me to another debate that’s been raging for over a week now. That over freedom of speech and expression, enshrined in France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, set by the French National Constituent Assembly in 1789.

As for freedom of the press, it became a law in 1881, one that also let the French premier Emmanuel Macron deliver a stunning yet duplicitous defense of free speech and secular values last week while remembering Samuel Paty, the French high school teacher beheaded for showing students offensive caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Before scaling down his tone, Macron even defended the cartoons, saying they were protected under the right to free speech, later adding that he won’t “renounce the caricatures.”

But does this freedom stop somewhere? French laws say the buck stops with the national flag and anthem because outraging either in their books carries a fine of €7,500 (Dh32,000) and six months’ imprisonment.

My takeaway from the survivor’s camp last week? If you can propound freedom of expression, then you should be able to brook some or all of the insult that comes under its garb. If not, then freedom of expression is just another charade to disguise, distort and obscure the very meaning of it. And it is then also an offence when it crosses limits, as it has, angering the Muslim world.

Practising such free speech then is just like enjoying your piece of meat while pretending to look away when the chicken, or the pigeon, was being mercilessly slaughtered. That’s doublespeak! —abhishek@khaleejtimes.com

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