Monday, April 24, 2006

Regressing: The zoo again

I went to the zoo yesterday after several years. There was a time we’d be routinely dragged off there by School on our annual excursions. Not again, we’d groan, but I remember still, waking up with frissons of excitement running up my spine, watching mum pack puliore and chips (which I regarded a high, high treat).

I don’t know why people talk of childhood as a carefree, untroubled time. I wasn’t a carefree child – happy for the most part – but not carefree. I can hardly see any child around me who’s that blissful. Oh, the cares are vague, tied up with a ‘best friend’ who won’t talk, or the attentions of a teacher whose name you won’t remember in ten years or most probably these days, study worries. Then, there are demands the adults make of you – outrageous expectations of perfect behaviour that they fall disgustingly short of themselves. The anxieties are there, the undercurrents of discontent are strong.

My memories of visits to the zoo are vague but I remember worry – vague fears about being left behind, a feeling of being out of my depth. Most distinctly I remember not the animals but falling. It must’ve been the 5th or 6th standard. The rest of the class were chattering around the monkeys when I ran back to the bus to fetch something and fell on a sharp stone. It was a deepish cut and I clambered on to the bus to sit and examine it. The only other person there was Bethina, rummaging her bag for something.
‘I’ve fallen and cut myself. Do you have a hankie or something to bind it?’ I asked her.
She hesitated and shook her head.
I shrugged and took my water bottle down to wash my knee. Bethina followed to investigate. The mud wiped off, the blood began to flow and trickle down my shin. Bethina took in a sharp breath, reached in her pocket and held a handkerchief out resolutely.
I could see why she had hesitated. It was a ‘dad’-sized kerchief, pristine white, lovingly pressed and folded. Picnic special. I too knew the value of such handkerchiefs. I couldn’t take it.
‘Go on, take it,’ she urged me, ‘it’s okay.’
So she bound it into a wad and tied it round my knee and we watched in mutual fascination as the red hurriedly seeped through the white. Nice, satisfactory cut, that one. Later the teacher made a fuss of me. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, was the zoo.

*

I went again yesterday and what a change there was in perception. It was a particularly lucky trip, because practically in every enclosure, the animals wandered out to show themselves off. The white tigers played and purred, the lions yawned and blinked at us, the tigers paced, the wolf pranced, the leopards played like kittens. I saw again the Great Indian Hornbill and was utterly fascinated by the pheasants.

White tiger in the moat.

A pair of lions, who seemed rather contemptuous of all the janta peering at them.

Panther (Panthera onca, not pardus) - stockier, heaver than our leopard.

Great Indian Hornbill - really friendly chap.

A peacock that showed off from every angle - he so wouldn't stop turning and doing that lovely frisson thing, we actually had to walk away after fifteen minutes.

Good trip. It’s really nice to be grown up.

3 comments:

Aashiq Awara said...

sniff.

Sheetal said...

indeed. you were missed.
Forgot to mention spider monkeys (which performed many nataks), colobus, wild ass, elephants, sarus cranes, greylags, barheaded geese, rufous necked hornbill, demoiselle cranes and adjutant.
Hah.

Sheetal said...

Forgot to mention Great white pelicans also. tra la la.