Adventures in Aipotu: Episode 7, Part 2
The mound, which was about the size of a billiards table, was covered with small house like structures. One could mistake them for small caves with openings but there were intricate structures. By parting the weeds, one could see tiny spires, domes and other elaborate structures of all kinds. The weeds protected the structures from currents. "This is amazing", Damini cried in astonishment. "This is almost like a human society."
"I hope you are not too close to the truth, girl", the turtle replied. " I have watched this community evolve over a thousand years. He looked sad, but his old irritability had disappeared. He was probably enjoying being in water a lot more than on land. "As you can see", Aris Turtle continued, "these crabs are pretty intelligent. Many years ago, they lived in societies such as these. Their lives were pretty complete. They had food to eat from the environment around them. Food was plentiful and their needs were minimal. One day, one of the clever crabs had an idea. He had designed a game and he suggested that all the crabs play the game. He explained the rules of the game to the rest of his community and everyone agreed to the suggestion that the game would go on for two months. Now, two months is a darn long time in the life of a crab. The crab community valued a certain coral. This coral was not readily available so its bone was not plentifully found. Each family usually had a few pieces that they used as a decorative trinket on special occasions. The rule of the game was that each crab had to get as many coral as possible. They could exchange anything they valued for the bones."
Aris Turtle stopped his narrative for a moment. Something seemed to have caught his attention and he swam over and tried to pull something out of a rocky portion of the bed. Damini was getting impatient at the pause in the story since she wanted to know how the community played the game. Shortly, Aris Turtle swam back and mouthed over a small trinket to Damini. (Well, he didn't have hands so he could not hand it over; he held this trinket in his mouth so he had to mouth it over). "This is a bone that was to become in high demand", Aris Turtle said. Damini washed off the clay around the piece of coral. It was a very interesting piece indeed. It was pink in color and it greatly magnified any light that filtered through the water. If viewed against light, the coral sparkled. Damini could see why the coral was valued. She put it in her pocket.
"What happened is obvious to any thinking person", the turtle continued. "People got so caught up that they began to give away their food, their houses, anything they owned for the corals. Stronger crabs threatened the weaker ones to grab their corals. Crabs that were scheming cheated their friends off corals. Some crabs joined up together to pressure other crabs - one at a time - into unjust deals. Crabs who had lost their food were beginning to starve. Crabs who had lost their houses were beginning to shrivel in the constant exposure to currents (you need to remember that they had been living in houses for generations now). When these crabs complained that they were getting hurt, the others jeered at them, called them wimps and asked them to `take it on the chin' since it was a game they were playing and hence rules were to be followed. Some crabs were better at the game than others. At the end of the two months, these crabs largely owned most of the valuables in the society. When the other crabs asked the winners to return their valuables, the winners refused. Since the winners largely controlled everything, there was little the losers could do. The society of crabs had been completely shattered."
"Coral grow very, very slowly. Thus, as far as the crabs were concerned, there was a fixed amount of corals. With increasing pressure to own more corals, more and more of the crabs were pushed and shoved and manipulated so that fewer and fewer had more of these pieces. The lives of the loser crabs was pathetic. They lived as slaves, in uncrabby conditions. They pleaded with the winner crabs but to no avail. In a few years, generations of crabs had lived only under these rules and to them this was the only way to live. Even those that were oppressed saw no way out. They were told that they were oppressed since they were not good enough. Even they accepted the rules as natural. Thus, the rules had become sacrosanct."
Aris Turtle paused in his story. Clearly, he had been so emotionally attached with the community that it was difficult for him to go on. "Many generations later, a wise crab was born into the home of a winner crab. She understood that this could not be a good way to live. But she did not know what was amiss. After many days of thought, she realized what the problem was. She went to the winner crabs and told them that she saw what the problem was. Clearly, intelligent crabs as they were, they could not live their lives based on one fundamental idea. Such coral fundamentalism was the cause of the oppression. A crab's life involves religion, culture, production, leisure, knowledge, swimming and sleeping. To define all these activities around the idea of corality was absolutely ridiculous. Corals should have a place in society, she said, but they cannot be the center of everything. Besides, she argued, if the fundamentalism of corals is causing so much pain to the large crab community, the rules of coralistic existence must be questioned. After all, the rules of coralism cannot be more real than the pain of the people."
Damini could see a glint of respect in the eyes of the wise turtle for this crab. She had not thought that Aris Turtle could actually respect someone. He continued, "The winner crabs initially thought of her as a young rebel. As she grew louder, the winner crabs became, well, kind of crabby, and then as she became even louder and they felt threatened, and they killed her."
With that, the old turtle sank to the floor of the lake and sat quietly. Damini went over and sat next to him. The old turtle was clearly affected by this turn of events. "What happened since?", Damini asked. The turtle gulped and then pointing to the mound, asked Damini to go and look. Damini swam over to the mound. Parting the weeds, she looked. She saw nothing. There were the houses she had seen. There were other signs of an intelligent community. But it was deserted. There were no crabs; not one crab to be seen. That community of crabs had died out.
She sank to the floor of the lake. And she had thought that this community of crabs was very similar to humans.