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.

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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?

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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

Galactic Plumes

I had been mooning about the fields outside in the village where we stayed near Topslip National Forest. People told me to be careful about venturing out far – “There are Elephants nearby, and they love the fields. “, they said emphasizing the word, Elephants. My eyes lit up. The villagers exchanged looks that doubted my sanity and hurried on, “It isn’t Good seeing Elephants in the fields – you never know what they will do. If you hear fire crackers in the distance, come straight back here!” said one toothless fairy godmother, and her husband (I think) nodded in agreement vigorously.

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Off we went then, sauntering through the fields, listening to the loud orchestra of birds, crickets and frogs, accompanying the beautiful colors that nature was setting forth for us to see. It is magical indeed to see a half dozen peacocks take flight into the sunset. By the time, we fumbled for the phones they were gone, and I was glad I did not waste those precious moments of seeing them start off awkwardly and then gain elegance in flight by trying to get a picture. I have it in my mind’s eye, along with the indescribable moment of feeling your heart soar with the peacocks’ trajectory.

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Peacocks have long feathers, and while they know how to fan them out and preen in front of peahens looking splendid in the process; when they fly, it looks like it can feel like long hair feels to women.

Gather your tresses,
Of plume and multi-colored beauty
Tuck them in,
Letting it stream behind you elegantly while
Trying not to let it look messy
And all the rest of that.

It was then in the distance that we heard firecrackers go off in the distance. I don’t know about you, but this is the sort of thing that holds mystique. It is what inspired my Mother’s Day in the Jungle tale. Trumpy elephant going off to Farmer Hasalot’s farm – there is such an element of thrill and romantic mysticism to this kind of thing, though I think the elephants and farmers in question disagree.

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I spent dusk in a similar fashion enjoying the fading sunlight, the rising moon, the fields, the clouds, the village, the children, the adults and creatures of beautiful Earth. Every now and then, crackers went off in the distance – elephants in the distance we whispered. Though, why we were whispering we had no idea. Dusk seems to call for these things. A laid back village in South India tucked away in the recesses of the Western Ghats with all the fascination of the bucolic. An occasional rumble of a vehicle is all there was to remind us of civilization, corporates, power tussles, wars, micro/ macro economics, nuclear heavy-lifts, and motives of profit.

Post dinner, I traipsed indoors, happy with life, still rattling on about the beautiful image of the peacocks taking flight together in the evening light. We stayed chatting happily into the night (Part 2)

It was well past midnight when the electricity went out, and the husband said, “Outside now! Completely dark – yes!”

Off we went, self carrying the son piggy-back to see the stars in all its glory outside. With the electricity gone, it was pitch black outside.
Oh!
My foot!
Not there.
Ouch!

We bumped into one another spectacularly and I tripped on a chair outside in the verandah, carrying the little fellow on my back. Both of us went crashing down, self trying to save the poor fellow from being dropped from my back. One splendid moment later, I truly saw what ‘seeing stars’ meant.

The pair of us dragged ourselves off our feet and took our eyes skyward. The light pollution we have unleashed on our planet means that there are very few places in the world that humanity can stand and gaze at the sheer immensity of the universe in which we live. On an average dark-ish day, we can see about 3000 stars, on a day like this surrounded by mountains, forests and fields for miles around us, we could see tens of thousands of them lighting up entire bands of the sky with their luminance. The stars and galaxies are always there, and maybe because of this very permanence, it is seldom appreciated.

Standing there in the surrounding darkness with people I love, I felt light-headed. There we were, standing on an Earth that was spinning incredibly fast in its journey around the sun; the sun was swirling around the Milky Way galaxy; and the galaxy itself was spinning and whirling away into vaster expanses. Carrying us all: our ethereal thoughts, wishes and desires; and our solid physical selves on a solid planet.

The galaxy tucking its star-studded plumes behind it gracefully, and taking flight with all its organic and inorganic components streaming gracefully along its path. Huge balls of gas and flames hurtling through space, and some spots in this beautiful expanse sanguine enough to cool down for a spot of life to flourish. #The Pale Blue Dot.

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The beautiful image of the peacocks taking flight earlier that evening came to me, and in that moment, the galaxies above looked like peacocks taking flight into horizons unknown.

Do the dreams of galaxies have limits? Do they have purposes?

Thinking back on that beautiful spin through the gathering darkness, I am reminded of this quote by Ursula K Le Guin:
“Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”

Dodo, Dragon, Dinosaur Dis-apparitions

We just got back from the Inyo Forests nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains. This time, the mountains were explored by the children with a friend who was just the right companion for both of them. He is aged smack in between the daughter’s age and the toddler’s age, and is an amiable, interesting fellow, thereby providing ample company to both of them. The toddler son thought him a hero and the daughter found in him another quirky little brother. He was obviously pleased with this state of things, and settled down to the hero-slash-honorary-little-brother role with aplomb.

It was quiet, and the darkness in the mountains was unreal. We could see Venus glowing brightly like a torch up in the sky. Inside the car,  it was toasty and warm, and the game of Twenty Questions was thriving: it is a sophisticated game in which you think of an animal and everyone can ask questions to guess the animal you thought of.  Animals were chosen and guessed at with hilarity.

“Amma! This little bobbicles knows nothing about his animal and expects us to guess it. How can you not know whether it is a carnivore or not?” The toddler said something like, maybe it likes to eat meat, but maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know. He then laughed raucously at his sister’s disbelief. He seemed to think that these trivial things should not stop a zoo-linguist-to-be from guessing the animal. (That reminds me that I have to get down to writing a blog on how the toddler plays games.)

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His friend-slash-hero agreed and took the car for a spin with mythical creatures from shows we had never seen. As the going got tough, the rules got tougher – “Hey! Mythical creatures only restricted to Greek mythology or Harry Potter or till level 10 of Pokemon Go!”. The hero-slash-lil-bro was something of a Pokemon expert and went on about zilletoes and monekchoes or things that sounded like them, with glee.

“How about Hanuman?” asked the toddler in a matter-of-fact tone.

Before Spiderman and Batman were added to the mix, the husband and I swooped in with some impressive peacekeeping efforts that folks in the United Nations could learn from.

After several minutes of quiet, the conversation started up again with the daughter asking a question: If you could bring one animal back from extinction, which one would it be and why?

As the conversation gathered fervor, the surrounding Inyo Forests resounded with the spirits of animals long gone. Sabre tooth tigers romped along side mammoths, T-rexes chased Brontosauruses. A short pause later, dragons and phoenixes joined them too. If the conversation were being animated real-time, I’d have liked to see the reactions of the various spirits as they made their mystical apparitions from the dead.

“You do know that phoenixes and dragons are mythical creatures right? They aren’t exactly extinct because we don’t know whether they really existed, “, said the daughter laughing to split.

“Okay – then Pidgeot”

“No! pidgies and pidgeottos! Before you ask, chargats don’t count either. Pokemon Go is not the real world you know?”

I could hear the gears spinning in the boys’ brains. This was one tough game, they thought.

After an intense argument that examined the merit of mythical creatures in the extinct category, and the virtual creatures in the ethereal category, the conversation slowed down again and landed softly near the dawdling dodo birds. We waddled by them, and the daughter explained that she felt the dodo birds deserved to be back because those poor creatures were extinct purely because of man’s greed.  The children smiled as though her goodwill towards the dodo could truly summon it back from the extinct category.

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“Anyway, which animal would you bring back?”, asked the daughter.

“I want to bring back the Titanis bird.”  said the hero-slash-hon-b.

We exchanged glances. It was difficult to figure out whether there really was a bird  called Titanis which was extinct, or one that appeared in the fellow’s video games.

“Really, there is a bird called Titanis. They are so beautiful. I want to bring them back. “ He sounded so sincere that the daughter’s heart melted. It often happens this way. The daughter is a softie underneath the bossy exterior and coo-ed.

“Oh! That is so sweet. Why do you want them back?”

“So, I can take a gun and shoot them! “, said the h-s-h-b.

I wonder whether you have played ping-pong. Just when you think the ball went, back it comes to you again. Right at your face. It was a bit like that. Just when you got the sweet daughter version, an outraged cry left her lips. The sweet dodo apparitions were gone. The dragons poof-ed themselves out, and titanis was gone too.

“Oh! How could you? “ she cried, the animal activist in her flaring up.

“Why? They have beautiful feathers. “

“Exactly! So admire the birds with their feathers!”

“But if we shoot them, we can collect their feathers.”

“Why bring them back if you want to shoot them?”

“How else will we get those beautiful feathers?”

The three of them played in our car till the toddler son fell asleep in the gathering darkness as we drove up to our destination.

I am not sure whether the dodo or the titanis will want to come back if it means holding a conversation with the specimens in our car.  Maybe we should give them a choice, what do you think?