March 3, 2024


For splendid leisure

Chiriakhana [The Zoo]

4 min read

It was almost a family ritual. Every winter, my brother, maternal uncle and I, used to visit the Calcutta Zoological Gardens. My uncle, who has long moved to happy hunting grounds, was a true nature lover and made it a point to visit the zoo early at sunrise instead of the mid-day tours most people indulge in. This he did to avoid the swirling throngs of crowd that made the viewing of animals in their natural self, rather impossible.

My uncle had correctly surmised that minus the crowd, the animals tended to be out in the viewing area longer than later during the day. Early morning visit had an added attraction for us because at around eight, the keepers usually fed the carnivores. So I remember that at the crack of dawn, the three of us would bundle ourselves in a tram car and head towards the zoo. As a young nature lover taking after his uncle, these visits were incredibly exciting for me and a yearly winter treat I wouldn’t give up for the world.

What really bothered us was to witness time and time again the beastly attitude of men. Let me explain. At that early hour, the carnivores would invariably pace incessantly around the outer perimeter of viewing area of their cages. That meant that they were that much closer to the viewing public than usual. Instead of admiring the prowess and grace of these magnificent animals, the early visitors thought of nothing better than pelting them with stones. This outrageous behavior they would perpetrate sneakily only when the authorities weren’t looking in their direction, which was more often the case.

One even had the devilish idea of holding out a bamboo stick to touch one of the end iron bars and then break into a run parallel to the face of the cage, but in the opposite direction. This really rattled the cage with an annoying smacking noise as the extended bamboo struck each iron bar in rapid succession. Naturally the poor inmate would roar in annoyance and charge, only to be stopped by its prison wall. Their faces would be contorted in a snarl which only a heightened hate can induce.

I have noticed that tormenting caged or otherwise restrained animals have been practiced to perfection by some. It seems that they have elevated this torture to an art form in their perverted minds. The cruelty of the mindless torment I always found abhorring. It all boiled down to one life’s torture being another’s entertainment. What could be more dastardly than this? What could be more perverse and senseless? I remember seething in a self-consuming anger with a yearning to get even.

It is the absurdity of life that a puny rag-tag biped has the audacity to torment a mighty tiger and get away with it; all because of the inches-separated bars of iron rod that prevents the king of the Indian jungle from engaging his tormentor. Animals kill for food but it is only the humans that do it for fun and pleasure. The poor beasts that are habituated to roaming vast areas are forced into cramped cages and then subjected to constant abuse. In zoos and circuses, their defense against any oppression is reduced to zero. The situation is absurdly unfair and cruel even by beastly standards.

In my mind’s eye, I would try to visualize the outcome of a striped carnivore lucky enough to be able to slip out of his cage, confronting his aggressor. I would have given an arm and a leg to see fear leap into the eyes of the wicked visitor as he first lays eyes on the un-caged animal stalking him. Nothing would please me more to see his heartbeat race and his suddenly weak knees unable to support his weight, his garment soiled.

The more powerful the animal, the higher they are on the torture list; the lesser of the lot fly under the radar. Any resting bear, tiger or lion is considered a wasted fun opportunity. It will be instantly poked or shouted upon to get a reaction. The louder the irritated snarl, the bigger is the grin on the torturer’s face. This tormented life stretches from sun up to sun down all the days the zoo is open to public. I reckon hell would have been a better place for these poor beasts. Do these animals pray each morning for the evening to come soon? I can only wonder.

With the evening, the winter shadows lengthen. Humans make mistakes in dim fading lights. It is quite conceivable that the keeper unknowingly turned the cage latch to the wrong position. He makes his way home oblivious of his fatal mistake. The stripped beast is out at last! He now yearns to deal with those hated humans. Where he lies in wait nobody knows. He may be crouching in the clump of grass merely yards away, or maybe behind that bole of a tree, it is anybody’s guess. Is the escaped animal in the park or out of it? Nobody knows for certain. What is certain however is that the animal hasn’t forgotten his pains. He is out for revenge and he must extract his dues. The king is out stalking silently. He is patiently readying for the strike. The tables are turned.

All park tormentors beware!

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