Night Vision by Navina Anand

We were on a night safari in Masai Mara, Kenya. We were told to look out for the much elusive porcupine, a nocturnal creature. Our host further told us that despite living there for a few years, she had never had the opportunity to spot one because they scurry so quickly out of the range of a speeding vehicle. Our guide, Sengeny, sped into the African bush almost acting as if he was driving in the daytime. While he swerved around the bushes like a man in a Formula 1 race, the four of us stared hard ahead at the arc of the headlights that were sweeping in front of the vehicle. Our vision was restricted to that narrow area in front covered by the headlights. We were gazing so hard in that area hoping to spot the porcupine. And there it was! Scurrying in front of the jeep as the jeep literally chased the poor animal with the headlights on in full blast and we had it in our vision for a whole 5 seconds before it darted into a bush and disappeared from sight. We couldn’t believe our luck. Our very first night-safari, we had spotted the elusive animal. How lucky were we! We were thrilled to bits as we returned back to our camp feeling triumphant and bursting to brag to our host that we had seen THE PORCUPINE! 

But in those moments as we were furiously hunting for the porcupine, as our night vision focused on that narrow arc of light, it is possible that we may have totally missed a majestic lion or a Leopard. Our vision at night is usually restricted to that slim area right in front of us. We never bothered to look anywhere else. In life too, many a time we are so focused on what is in front of us illuminated by the focus of having a goal that sometimes we let pass other things which are also important, but outside the arc of our focus. We are in such a scramble to reach that goal of a porcupine… that we may have missed a few other beauties along the way.

Technically human beings are not good at night vision, as in the way nocturnal animals are, as we don’t have a layer called the ‘Tapetum Lucidum‘ in our eyes. This is a tissue behind the cornea and is a retro-reflector. The tape which cyclists wear on their jackets while riding at night or the shiny paint on a highway lane or a road sign, are all retro-reflective to enable us to see them at night. This is why nocturnal animals’ eyes also glow in the dark ! Interesting eh! 

But that being said, all of us would have been in situations in life where after the initial shock of being in the dark, we realize after a few minutes that the eyes have adapted, and we have night vision. While the contrast of light to darkness initially made us feel blind, we eventually adjusted to the darkness and even could figure out how to find our way around, albeit not perfectly. We may walk into something or we may hurt ourselves stepping on something, but we manage and given enough time even become good at it. Sometimes some of the situations in our lives also throw us in darkness abruptly. But after the initial shock, we adapt, we learn to grope around and start functioning again, beginning sub-optimally, but eventually becoming good at it.

Whether it is day or night, beyond the physical ability as humans, we also see only what we want to see. That is where our minds step in. Our baggage from our past will determine what we see in the day or night. A rope might look like a snake, a kite stuck in a tree might look like a ghost, or the word “Faith” might look like ” Trust”  because ultimately no matter what kind of vision you have, it is going to be the mind that tells you what you are looking at. And what you are looking at is just your version of the truth.

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