First published in November 2016 edition.
Mr Anil Gupta and his family were looking forward to their weekend as they had planned to visit the zoo with their four year old son, Ayan. The morning arrived and Ayan started jumping excitedly on the bed. “I’ll visit the zoo today. I am so happy. It will be fun. I want to see animals and take a ride on the train. I love the lion because it’s scary, the monkey makes me laugh, and I enjoy nature too.”
The family packed a sumptuous lunch and sat in the car and drove off towards the zoo. Ayan started jumping in the car due to excitement. When they reached the zoo they noticed that there were bold placards outside the zoo which emphasized the safety of animals. “Treat them as you would like to be treated”. Ayan was too young to understand the deeper meaning of these signs but his parents explained them to him before entering the zoo.
Ayan saw the chimpanzee’s eyes for the first time. The eyes of an unhappy animal locked all alone in a bare concrete floored iron-barred cage in one remote corner of the zoo. Even though small, he wondered how he would feel if he was kept as a captive. The monkeys jumping from one branch to another gave him a thrill. Suddenly, he saw a little boy throwing peanuts at the monkeys. He also saw some children plucking leaves and writing their names on trees. Ayan wanted to make the monkeys eat something but his parents advised him against it as it wasn’t permitted.
As they moved ahead, he saw beautiful ducks swimming in the pond but to his horror, the water was all murky and polluted. Ayan wanted to be a zookeeper when he grew up as he loved the company of animals. His pet dog Bruno was an everlasting companion and he hoped to keep many more pets at home. Fish and giraffes, especially fascinated him.
Ayan and his family ate lunch and then went on to see the animal show. It was a sight to watch the elephants, tigers and dogs obeying their keeper so religiously. It made him think if he could ever be so obedient vis-à-vis his parents! He saw snakes, sharks, eels, piranhas, spiders, and even a fake model of Jurassic park in which they showed animated movies on dinosaurs.
Everything was going on smoothly when he suddenly turned and saw his father and mother screaming at the top of their voice, asking him to run towards them. Engrossed in the splendour of the zoo, he had accidentally entered the lion cage and the lion was staring with intense eyes at his to be meal-human flesh. ‘Who’s afraid of a lion?’ Ayan told his little heart. However, Ayan was shivering and didn’t know what to do.
All his love for the zoo vanished in a second. Ayan was terrified and now wanted to run away. The fear of life is a huge fear but he tried to pacify himself by saying that “All one has to fear is fear itself.”
He crouched under a nearby bush and hid himself behind it. The hue and cry of his parents attracted the guard and he entered the arena with a huge revolver and a stick of fire in his hand. The guard was accustomed to the lion and vice versa and he had no qualms in burning the skin of the tiger. Ayan was shocked to see the cruel treatment and resolved never to be a zookeeper.
The guard picked Ayan in a flash and closed the gate with a huge thud. Ayan’s parents were relieved to see him safe and even though Ayan had portrayed the facade of being a brave boy, he promised to himself to be extra cautious in the future while invading an animal’s territory.
This episode left Ayan more experienced and he learned the lesson of patience, kindness, cautiousness and realised the importance of following rules and regulations in life. It was an unforgettable experience and he planned to share the exciting adventure with his peer group. Ayan freed the bird that he had kept in a cage at home, as soon as he reached home.
He learnt the lesson of wanting to protect the environment and comprehended the need for more kindness, more compassion, more joy and more laughter. Ayan’s family visit to the zoo enlightened him to understand the value of animals. He thought to himself, “We live in a fragmented and disconnected culture. Politics is ugly, religion is struggling, technology is stressful and the economy is unfortunate. What’s one thing that we can depend on? A dog or cat loving us unconditionally. How we treat these companions is a test, we should protect their habitats in order to protect and preserve the world. One can find God in nature, in animals, in birds and in the environment. Animal abuse is rampant and we should put a stop to it. We should empathize with animals as we owe them a “duty of care.”
- vis-à-vis – in relation to
- hue and cry – an angry protest about something
- qualms – a feeling of doubt or uncertainty about whether you are doing the right thing