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
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.
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?
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.
Clara the Hippopotamus – By Emily Arnold McCully
My Family & Other Animals – By Gerald Durrell