Monday, February 15, 2010

At home? Not Quite!

“Oh, this one is just two years old!” cries the enthusiastic lad standing outside my home, looking at me with intense eyes. I am woken from my slumber and am a little irritated, but I look at the kid with interest. He looks like he has newly learnt subtraction. They learn all these things (why, even about us) at a place they call school.
“Isn’t he beautiful, Papa?” exclaims the child, peering at me with his bright eyes. I simper and say “Come on, kiddo! I know we all look the same to you!” The boy is thrilled to hear me growl, and his father is beaming at his son’s enthusiasm.
* * * * * * * * * *
A wet sun smiles from behind the clouds. I like this weather and this time of the day. I like the visitors that come at this time. They are fresh and enthusiastic. Some people even make notes. Though we are separated by grilles and walls that would not give way even if I rammed against them with all my strength, my life has been woven inextricably with the humans. The visitors are my life now.

The stories that Mother used to tell me, all contained the same kind of moral – do not stray into unknown places, do not eat food unless you have caught it, but each time I ignored her. I used to be a very curious baby, and was quite a handful. I am still paying for my curiosity – that was what got me here, the point of no return. And then she used to tell me horror stories about humans, about how we were made to perform rope-tricks and jump through fire-circles just to amuse them. Oh, Mother, if you knew that this place is not even remotely like that! You sure did know a lot, you had seen a lot of the world, but I assure you that this place that you called a circus was only in your imagination!
* * * * * * * * * *
I come out of my world of thoughts and take a walk in the backyard. My shadow gets shorter on the ground painstakingly made to mimic a forest. A cloud hides the sun and I am able to look up at the vast blue dome above, dotted with white and light-grey clouds. Back in the forest, we could only catch glimpses of narrow strips of the sky, slightly wider strips when we were wading in the water. But here in the zoo, I can trace the path of the sun from one side of the sky to the other. Looking at the Sun, some of my friends here can even say when the people stop visiting for the day.

My neighbor Belli, a fine female, beckons to me. We share the same spacious backyard. The poor thing was born in captivity, and has never seen a forest. I tell her about large pools where we can wade to our hearts content (“you can actually swim?”) and about tall trees (“you mean, taller than this?” indicating a mango tree that grew nearby). She listens, wide-eyed, my only friend in the whole world. “Hi!” I cry out. She responds with a growl and walks towards me. She brushes her head against mine, her way of greeting me. She points to a loudly dressed lady carrying a small baby, pointing at us excitedly. "If I could kill, I would kill that woman over there, if only to stop her from staring at me like that" she says, looking at her. "But I won't, because I can't" and smiles a little sadly. Somehow, Belli cannot understand the concept of killing to eat, and cannot stomach the fact that I have killed before. How can any self-respecting tiger pounce on a helpless animal and kill it, asks she. "I would not do it" she affirms, "not if I were dying of hunger". I retort "Oh, but you have hardly ever died of hunger; you have always gotten something to eat daily!” Belli refuses to back down. “Oh, but don’t you realize what you are doing to the poor thing? You have probably killed a mother deer who was still feeding a baby – have you ever thought how forlorn the baby would be without its Mom? Why, look at you! Can you tell me you don’t miss your Mom? ...” So goes her lecture. The loudly dressed woman is forgotten by my dear non-violent friend.
“There’s lunch!” Belli announces. I turn my head and see the big green noisy animal (bigger than an elephant!) bringing us our lunch. Humans are so scared of us that they just leave our food someplace for us to get it. "They do not know about non-violent tigers like you", I tease Belli. She smiles. We part for lunch.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Really, one of the best parts of living in a zoo is that we get food regularly, without worrying if our teeth and nails are sharp enough, or about the time when they do become too blunt for us to hunt. Tigers like Belli who do not know a world apart from the zoo even tend to be non-violent, unlike me and my Mother. We were fierce. Mother taught me how to draw my nails in and walk noiselessly, how to wait silently for the prey to get near, and how to time my jumps. Oh, the thrill when I caught and killed a deer!
I still remember that night. The whole forest was shining in the glory of the full moon. I was almost a year old, but had not yet hunted on my own. I walked noiselessly with Mother by my side. And then I smelled my favorite food- deer. It was a young buck lying under the cover of a shrub, about to sleep. He probably smelled me as I drew near, for he started and stood up with a jerk. One glance to the left told him that his end was near. He tried to get away from me. I pounced on him (mercilessly, would Belli say?). A couple of jumps and I was on him. He struggled and tried to hurt me, but I held on to his neck tightly with my teeth. A few seconds, and it was all over. I had earned my first meal.
I was tired, and bruised where the antlers hit me. My beaming Mother came and gently licked it. That made the pain go away, really. Joy in the fact that I was an independent little cub and relief in the fact that she would no longer have to hunt for four, danced on Mother's face. Suddenly I felt all grown-up and important. The deer was fresh and tasty back there, unlike the food that we get here. I confess, I have never come across any tiger that felt a pang in its heart when it was about to kill. The idea that Belli presented to me was completely new. The memory of the smell of deer makes my mouth water, even after two months in the zoo. I walk wearily to my lunch of beef.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
My nap is rudely interrupted by the loud clanking of the door of my cell. I look up to see the friendly person who opens my mouth and examines my ears and all that. They call him “Doc”, funny name it is, for a funny man. I look at the big thorn in his hand and sigh. I know that is for immobilizing me if they think I am becoming dangerous.
I let Doc do the check-up. There is another person with him today and he is watching Doc impatiently with a frown, hands in his pouches. After what seemed like ages, Doc patted me with a satisfied smile and left. Later in the day, I asked Belli who the other person was. She said he was called a ‘researcher’. Then a shadow passed over her face. She shook her head, and said “I don’t like him”. I told her I did not like him either. He made one’s flesh creep. “You don’t know him”, she said. “They sometimes take us away to do what they call experiments... It is not nice”. Then, she became a little more cheerful, and said “At least we are not in the circus! Here we sleep and jump when we want to. Those poor things do not even have that luxury!” So, this place called circus existed, after all! My head was reeling.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
The days in the zoo are very tiring. My limbs ache to jump long distances. The water in the excuse for a pool that we have here does not even come up to my stomach, forget swimming in it. I go and wet my legs in the water and look up. There are people, people and more people. Some look at us with wonder, some without any interest, some with pity, and almost all of them are afraid of us. Afraid of letting us go nearer to them than we are now. Belli tells me often that zoo is better for a tiger than forests, because apparently we live a little longer in zoos than in forests. Ah well…
* * * * * * * * * * * *
My Mother never stopped us from exploring. When we were very young, we used to stay close to Mother, to be safe. I, being just a little more adventurous than the average tiger, would stray more than I was allowed to. And see where it brought me!
Should curiosity and exploration stop at a certain stage? What can we say about humans, who have given themselves the supreme authority to rule, maim and kill other animals, and justify it all in the name of curiosity and survival? If the humans had shown us some consideration a few decades ago, the likes of me would not have to languish in this place that is practically a prison. Belli tells me often about a captive tiger that lost a fight against a bull. A couple more months in the zoo, and I will not be able to combat a lamb, let alone a grown bull. Just to live a couple of years more, do I need to sacrifice my tiger-ness? All around me in the zoo, I can see animals that are striped and sharp-toothed, but I cannot see even one tiger. I will also cease to be one soon.

8 comments:

soumen said...

‘A short snarl- and every living objects come to know that The King is on the prowl. The silence is eerie. Even the wind stops it’s sibilant growling.The mouth of the gurgling electric brook is gradually unveiling it’s beauty in the pale moonlight… and there flashes the black-yellow striped- crouched majestically on a huge mound of earth.’ So, end of days of The Bellundur Ogre or The Aristocrat of Amilgola, now is the time to write an elegy on them. No, don’t do accept this pessimistic speech for granted. Growl like Him- The King of Indian Jungle. Don’t spare them who cause to degenerate our democracy in it’s every fine shades and help themselves get their pockets fatter and fatter and fatter. Yes, they are the true unholy partners of the jackal Mr. Anderson, who feed on the living corpses of our democracy- day in and day out. Save The King. He depends on us. In fact, it is more important to save Him ’cause He is the most dependent one in the eco-system, crouched on top of the pyramid. So the number 1411 easily transpires how much do we care to protect our ecological balance. So, save Him to save yourself.

Charu said...

Nice story. It's true that by making a tiger sacrifice who he really is, we're just harming ourselves. You can check out mine if you like
http://travellers-fruits.blogspot.com/2010/02/explorer.html

Chitra said...

Beautiful story! Loved the imaginative description. It almost felt that it was written by a tiger :-)!

parijata said...

All,
Sorry for the delay in replying to your comments.

@Soumen,
Save the tiger to save ourselves - How true! And apparently there are only 350 Asiatic lions remaining! I shudder to think what the statistics may be ten years from now!

@Charu,
Thanks. I will check out your page.

@Chitra,
Thank you very much. On a lighter note, I suppose we should add one to 1411? ;)

Aram said...

Nice to see you back at your creative best. - Aram

parijata said...

@Aram,
It is so nice to see you back too! How are you?

Mallikarjuna said...

gud blog

Ajju.... said...

simply amazing blog this... this shud be the anthem for tiger conservation in india...