The Animals Within

 

The evening was a beautiful one. The children played looking like little angels in the glowing sun, and I threw affectionate glances at the noise in the playground.

I was mooning about the streets admiring the shabby looks of late summer. The same hills that looked brown and uninviting in the distance during the day, now looked ravishing bathed in sunset’s golden glow. Little specks of clouds in the sky were blushing to different degrees. The purple, red, orange and pinks poufs flicked about looking snippy and sharp. The oleander trees and the crepe hyacinths lining the streets looked prettier than ever before.

The approaching week-end seemed inviting, promising in its possibilities: my outlook was cheerful; my spirits soaring with the multi-colored clouds up there; and no must-dos competed for attention in the old brain.

T’was after a little growl came from within that I stopped to wonder what was amiss. I had completely missed the making-dinner task at hand, and the growl was reminding me, that I had not just 1 growl from my stomach to contend with, but the whole family’s as well. The husband trundled in, the children trooped in to say hi, and I whisked them all off for a dinner outside.

‘Forgot to cook?!’ cackled the teenaged daughter, looking indulgent and proud that I was not being the conscientious cook, and filling her plate with healthy muck. “Didn’t the sunset fill you up?”

“It filled me spiritually my dear. I could not be fuller!”, said I patting my heart, “but the stomach still asks for its due, Alas! “ I said remembering a poem my mother-in-law often references about what an irascible taskmaster the stomach is. I always smile at the wisdom of the poem. Loosely translated, it means
“Oh stomach!
What an irascible creature you are!
I ask you to eat a lot at one meal, and you rebel, and push back saying you are full.
So, then I ask you to skip a meal, but that too wouldn’t do for you.
What a slave to your demands have I become?
It is very difficult to live with you!”

So, off we went to a Chinese restaurant in various states of hunger.

This is one of those places that believes in keeping you engaged while they prepare the food for you. In front of each was a sheet of paper containing the Chinese Zodiac Animals and their characteristics. We started off in typical fashion:
You are a monkey!
Really? A snake – ha!
How could you be a tiger?
I don’t want to be a pig!

For those who moon about on Friday evenings without considering the demands of the stomach, here is a tip: Don’t! Friday evenings beckon all mooners-about, and restaurants find themselves busier than usual that day. As we sat around with hunger gnawing at the insides, the sheet of paper telling us about our characters based on the year we were born in looked inviting. Soon, we started tabulating and cross-referencing the listed characteristics against the personalities in the family.

It is an interesting exercise, and really makes everyone stop and pause and think about oneself. There are characteristics that the whole family gave a miss to. There were some that we hoped we did not have, but found we did. There were others we hoped to have in a higher degree. The tabulations were derailed every now and then with questions such as “Why are hippos not there in the Chinese calendar?”, After going into habitats and biomes with glaring holes of knowledge, seeing as none of us had ever to China, we got the animals back on track.

The resulting diagnoses has us giggling uncontrollably:
“You are most like a rabbit, but also have the tongue of a dragon, and the heart of a pig!”
“Snake hissing and pouting maybe, while galloping like a horse, and snoring like an ox.”

It turned out that we churned out more fantastical creatures in that half hour than a whole mythological genre could in a book. “Imagine if these creatures were sitting in us, wouldn’t that be something?” I said.

inyo_20q

Humanity’s capacity to imagine strange and wonderful creatures has always been remarkable, though there are precious few creatures left for us to imagine. No one is bringing another Clara to our midst any time soon.

Clara the rhinoceros, was brought to Europe on a tour in the 18th century. No one had yet seen any of the creatures of the East, and had not even heard of such an animal. Clara became an instant darling of the masses – her gentle demeanor, her love of oranges and her sheer size endeared her to all those who had the privilege of seeing her. I can well imagine the wonder and curiosity such a creature brought to human society, and the number of children in whom the wonders of the natural world was rekindled. How many Gerald Durrells, who imagined the beautiful world of their family and other animals?

500px-Clara_1749_Oudry.jpg
Image title
Rhinoceros Clara
Author
Jean-Baptiste Oudry
Copyright holder
PD

Today, we silently add more and more creatures to the endangered species list, watch in alarm as forest cover disappears and wait for magic to happen in our lives. Anthropologically, will we hear the news of a Middle Earth tucked away somewhere with hundreds of majestic creatures again?

Maybe one day, our space explorations will yield something. Till that day, we shall have to content ourselves with imagining the various creatures and creature traits within us.

Books:

Clara the Hippopotamus – By Emily Arnold McCully

My Family & Other Animals – By Gerald Durrell

Turtlish Thoughts

When the children are hanging out nearby, I am amused to see they take the phrase literally. I find them hanging upside down from trees looking like bats wondering why the world cannot be more topsy-turvy on occasion. One day, I found them on the monkey bars like this: one fellow upside down, the other swinging wildly. One child cart-wheeling on the floor, (hop, skip, jump, cartwheel),and chatting about Turtles. I don’t think they realize how the scene must seem to adults who have long given in to the expectations of the adult world, and walk upright at a reasonable speed and acceptable gait. I grinned at the unusual scene and they smiled and waved, before resuming their chats.

The scene reminded me of the Kung Fu Panda movie. Thoughts of Monkey, Mantis, Viper, Crane, Tigress , Shifu, Po and Oogway are always welcome.

kung-fu-panda

Sometimes, when a bunch of stuffed shirts are droning on in self-important tones at the tail-end of an exhausting meeting, I think wanly how much more fun it would have been if we had jumped up and down, cart-wheeled a few times and hung from tree branches while discussing ‘Strategic Improvements to Aid And Abet The Committee’. Every bit helps.

That night, with the wind whipping up a mean rhythm outside, I suggested visiting our old friends in the Valley of Peace, and embrace the challenges of the Jade Palace again. The Kung Fu Panda series has long been a favorite in the household, and we all nodded. Movie nights are never an easy democratic process, but I was glad we all agreed on ‘Kung Fu Panda‘ that night.

Oogway, the turtle, holds a special place in our hearts, partly because, measured and slow is not something we do – we are forever racing from one place to another, hanging upside down with friends on monkey bars, competing to deliver the quickest quips and generally making quick pests of ourselves in the home. Oogway, on the other hand is the coolest dude. The turtles: Oogway of Kung Fu Panda fame, Crush of Finding Nemo fame and Toby of Kindergarten fame, have all been much loved and have taught us so much.

img_4965

It was no surprise then that we reached for the ‘Always Remember’ book by Cece Meng and Illustrated by Jago.

It is a beautiful book that talks about an old turtle. After the turtle dies, all of his friends remember him lovingly in their own way. It is a lovely book showing us how far and wide our impacts can be by living a fruitful and useful life, sticking to simple tenets of compassion, loyalty and friendship.

0

The marine worlds always make for the best illustrations, but even so, Jago’s work in he book is mesmerizing. The characters (dolphins, starfish, baby turtles, whales, sea otters) remember Old Turtle, the compassionate companion, the adventurer, the teacher, the explorer. We, by our very being, mean different things to different people and this beautiful multifaceted aspect is illustrated in pictures splashed across the ocean in hues of blue and green.

Side note: For adults, a similar book about the far and wide reaching impacts we have on others, is a book by Miss Read, Emily Davis. A school teacher by profession, her life is remembered fondly by those whose lives she affected. Often times, we think of these large sized impacts but the most powerful ones are right by us all the time.

miss_clare_remembers

Our companions on Earth have always fascinated us. I remembered fondly watching a baby turtle sun itself on the rocks in Spring  a few months ago. A friend once told me that once we start paying attention to the world around us, it tells us in so many ways what we need to hear and how.

So, what does it mean when a turtle enters your thoughts so apparently suddenly and steadily? Does it mean that we need to synchronize our movements with the animal companions that are paying us visits? In this case, s..l..o..w……d..o..w..n ? Well, my turtle teachers will be proud of me indeed to see me following their example so well. I am sitting cosily in bed as I write about these dear creatures, and look forward to slowly drifting into a world of quiet contemplation, and gently falling asleep while the Earth slowly but steadily hums and thrums on outside. The flowers may bloom or they may not, the shoots may grow or they may not.

 

“Your mind is like this water my friend. When it is agitated, it becomes difficult to see. But if you allow it to settle, the answer becomes clear. “ – Oogway

The Wind in the Reefs

We are enjoying Wind in the Willows sort of days of late. Every so often, I crave for some comfort reading and fall back on Children’s story books. The Wind in the Willows is one such. I still remember my best friend walking up to the front of the assembly and saying nervously, “The Wind in the Willows By Kenneth Grahame. The Mole had been working hard all morning spring cleaning his home …” She had me sit in the first row so she could look at me for moral support, and I gladly obliged. She had brushed her wavy hair neatly parted at the side, and her nervousness was evident in the small shake in her voice. She looked at me and smiled nervously and I gave her a large blooming-flower-kind of smile that encouraged her to go on and she carried on heartened. She finished her recitation to much applause, and collapsed on the chair next to me, and I assured her that she had been marvelous.

When I read snippets of the book on the train, I thought of her again and all the sunny balmy days of childhood play in the warm sun and pouring rain came back to me. Folks looked at me like I need to have my head examined, I grinned disarmingly at them. After all, Grahame described The Wind in the Reeds (the working title till it became Wind in the Willows) as:

“A book of youth, and so perhaps chiefly for youth and those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them; of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides, free of problems, clear of the clash of the sex, of life as it might fairly be supposed to be regarded by some of the wise, small things that ‘glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck’.”

The Wind in the Willows
The Wind in the Willows

There is something deeply alluring about animal stories. I love to imagine them talking to each other, helping one another in times of trouble and having their little adventures. I was similarly happy when I read another passage on Dolphins and Humans in the Cosmic Connection by Carl Sagan. These helpful animals probably crave a little intellectual stimulation and have often been friends to humans, and yet we have shown them time and again how heartless we are by going after them.

Carl Sagan writes of Elvar the Dolphin, who he had the pleasure of meeting during one of his visits to his friend, John Lilly. John Lilly was an admirable scientist who was involved in several researches, Dolphins being one of them. Lilly introduced Elvar-the-Dolphin to Sagan-the-Human, and seeing that they were getting along, let them to it. Sagan and Elvar came into playing a sort of game, and after being splashed thoroughly by Elvar thrice, Sagan refused to play a fourth time.

Elvar surveyed the standoff for several minutes and swam up to Sagan up and said in a squeaky tone of voice, “More!”.

Carl Sagan, justifiably flustered, came running to his friend and said he might have heard a dolphin say the word, “More”.

To which his friend asked him, “Was it in context?”

“Yes! “, spluttered the poor physicist, to which the neuro-scientist smiled and said that it was one of the 50 odd words he knew.

In all these years, we have yet to pick up one word of Dolphinese and yet, we boast about being knowledgable and go to no end to display our arrogance to Mother Nature.

The Wind in the Reefs
Why are we so quick so assume that a place like this will not be rife with little joys and strifes? Doodling by the Daughter

If we are so intent about looking for extra terrestrial life, maybe we should stop and let our own ecosystems thrive.

I am reminded of what William James said, about letting Nature teach us as she ought:

It is to be hoped that we have some friend, perhaps more young than old, whose soul is of this sky-blue tint, whose affinities are rather with flowers and birds and all enchanting innocencies, than with dark human passions, who can think of no ill of man.

Release Your Inner Cupid

I wonder what is being said about us in the animal world newsletters this month. We have articles on animal behaviors don’t we? This article on the various techniques adopted by animals is an interesting one. Some techniques are funny, some scary and some for which I can’t think of the right adjectives.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/13/weird-animal-courtship-displays_n_4761381.html

Life is full of interesting tidbits of information.  For example:  The efforts of Sir George Archibald who loved the ways of the whooping crane. I quote:

When whooping crane populations dropped to fewer than 100 individuals in the 20th century, ornithologist George Archibald stepped in to try to get one whooping crane in captivity, Tex, to mate. To initiate ovulation, Archibald danced with her, and after several attempts, she successfully hatched a chick in 1982, according to Audubon Magazine.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Archibald_(ornithologist)

I was glad to have read this. Now, I know not to judge a person acting like a babbling baboon or an aggressive tiger harshly. We don’t know what their journey is about.

Like Jane Austen says, “There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.”

I wonder why we exemplify Valentine’s Day to be a Lovers Day only. Let it be a day of showing love. Bring out your inner whooping crane or wake your dormant flamingo and have fun.

valentine's day