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Chiriakhana [The Zoo]
It was almost a family ritual. Every winter, my brother, uncle and I used to visit the Calcutta Zoological Gardens. My uncle, who has long since 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 midday tours that most people indulge in. He did this to avoid the swirling crowd that made it rather impossible to see the animals in their natural selves.
My uncle had guessed correctly that minus the crowd, the animals tended to be out in the viewing area more than later in the day. The early morning visit had an added attraction for us because around eight o’clock, the keepers would usually feed the carnivores. So I remember that in the early morning, the three of us would pile ourselves into a tram and head to the zoo. As a young nature lover chasing after his uncle, these visits were incredibly exciting for me and an annual winter treat I wouldn’t give up for the world.
What really bothered us was watching the men’s brutal attitude over and over again. Let me explain. During that first hour, the carnivores would pace non-stop around the outer perimeter of the viewing area of their cages. This meant that he was much closer to the audience than usual. Instead of admiring the prowess and grace of these magnificent animals, the first visitors thought of nothing better than to throw stones at them. They would only commit this outrageous behavior in secret when the authorities weren’t looking their way, which was more often than not.
One even had the diabolical idea of holding a bamboo stick to touch one of the end iron bars and then break in a path parallel to the face of the cage, but in the opposite direction. This actually shook the cage with a disturbing noise as the extended bamboo hit each iron bar in succession. Naturally, the poor prisoner would roar in exasperation and condemn, only to be stopped by the wall of his prison. Their faces would contort into a snarl that only intense hatred can produce.
I have noticed that some have perfected the torture of caged or otherwise immobilized animals. They seem to have elevated this torture to an art form in their twisted minds. I have always found the cruelty of senseless torture abhorrent. It all boiled down to one life’s torture being another’s entertainment. What’s more awful than that? What is more perverse and absurd? I remember seething in a self-consuming anger with a longing to get even.
It is an absurdity of life to have the audacity to torment a mighty tiger and get away with it. and all because of the inch-divided iron bar bars that prevent the king of the Indian jungle from engaging his tormentor. Animals kill for food, but only humans do it for fun and pleasure. The poor beasts who are used to roaming vast areas are forced into cramped cages and then subjected to constant abuse. In zoos and circuses their defenses against all oppression are reduced to zero. The situation is absurdly unfair and cruel even by beastly standards.
In my mind, I would try to visualize the outcome of a striped carrion lucky enough to be able to slip out of its cage, confronting its attacker. I’d give an arm and a leg to see the fear leap into the evil visitor’s eyes as he lays eyes on the uncaged animal stalking him for the first time. Nothing would please me more than to see his heart beating and his suddenly weak knees unable to support his weight, his clothing soiled.
The more powerful the animal, the higher they are on the torture list. the smaller of the lot fly under the radar. Every resting bear, tiger or lion is considered a lost opportunity for fun. It will hit or shout immediately to get a reaction. The louder the exasperated snarl, the bigger the smile on the torturer’s face. This tortured life spans from sunup to sundown on all days the zoo is open to the public. I believe hell would be a better place for these poor beasts. Do these animals pray every morning for the evening to come soon? I can only wonder.
With the evening the winter shadows lengthen. People make mistakes in the dim, fading lights. It is quite understandable that the goalkeeper unknowingly turned the cage latch to the wrong position. He makes his way home oblivious to his fatal mistake. The stripped beast is finally out! Now he longs to face these hateful people. Where he waits no one knows. He may be crouching in the clump of grass a few feet away, or maybe behind that tree trunk, it’s anyone’s guess. Is the animal that escaped in the park or out of it? Nobody knows for sure. What is certain, however, is that the animal has not forgotten its pains. He is out for revenge and must collect his debts. The king is outside watching silently. He patiently prepares for the strike. The tables are turned.
All park tormentors beware!
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