Ravi?”Ravi nodded vigorously. “Piscine?”I nodded even more vigorously. He kept his eyes on me. I nodded so hard I’m surprised my neck didn’t snap andmy head fall to the floor. I would like to say in my own defence that though I mayhave anthropomorphized the animals till they spoke fluentEnglish, the pheasants complaining in uppity British accents oftheir tea being cold and the baboons planning their bankrobbery getaway in the flat, menacing tones of Americangangsters, the fancy was always conscious. I quite deliberatelydressed wild animals in tame costumes of my imagination. But Inever deluded myself as to the real nature of my playmates. My pokingRead More →

patriarch, a lanky, hulking beast of 550 pounds,had been detained. As soon as we stepped in, he loped up tothe bars of his cage and set off a full-throated snarl, ears   flatagainst his skull and round eyes fixed on Babu. The soundwas so loud and fierce it seemed to shake the whole cathouse. My knees started quaking. I got close to   Father seemed to pause and steadyhimself. Only Babu was indifferent to the outburst and to thesearing stare that bored into him like a drill. He had a testedtrust in iron bars. Mahisha started pacing to and fro againstthe limits of his cage.Read More →

We set out like prisoners off to their execution. We left the house, went through the gate, entered the zoo. It was early and the zoo hadn’t opened yet to the public.   Animal keepers and groundskeepers were going about theirwork. I noticed Sitaram, who oversaw the orang-utans, myfavourite keeper. He paused to watch us go by. We passedbirds, bears, apes, monkeys, ungulates, the terrarium house, therhinos, the elephants, the giraffes. We came to the big cats, our tigers, lions and leopards. Babu, their keeper, was waiting for us. We went round anddown the path, and he unlocked the door to the cat house,which wasRead More →

The cruelty is often more active and direct. The literaturecontains reports on the many torments inflicted upon zooanimals: a shoebill dying of shock after having its beaksmashed with a hammer; a moose stag losing its beard, alongwith a strip of flesh the size of an index finger, to a visitor’sknife (this same moose was poisoned six months later); amonkey’s arm broken after reaching out for proffered nuts; adeer’s antlers attacked with a hacksaw; a zebra stabbed with asword; and other assaults on other animals, with walking sticks,umbrellas, hairpins, knitting needles, scissors and whatnot, oftenwith an aim to taking an eye out or to injuring sexualRead More →

stealing a cobra. He was a snake charmerwhose own snake had died. Both were saved: the cobra froma life of servitude and bad music, and the man from apossible death bite. We had to deal on occasion with stonethrowers, who found the animals too placid and wanted areaction. And we had the lady whose sari was caught by alion. She spun like a yo-yo, choosing mortal embarrassmentover mortal end. The thing was, it wasn’t even an accident. She had leaned over, thrust her hand in the cage and wavedthe end of her sari in the lion’s face, with what intent wenever figured out. She wasRead More →

I’ll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in mycraw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must allpass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played withdoubt, so must we. If Christ spent an   We commonly say in the trade that the most dangerousanimal in a zoo is Man. In a general way we mean how ourspecies’ excessive predatoriness has made the entire planet ourprey. More specifically, we have in mind the people who feedfishhooks to the otters, razors to the bears, apples with smallnails in them to the elephants and hardware variations on thetheme: ballpoint pens,Read More →

Mr. Kumar looked up and saw me. He smiled and, onehand holding onto the railing, the other waving, signalled me tocome over.   This is interesting…” He was indicating the pit. “If we hadpoliticians like these goats and rhinos we’d have fewer problemsin our country. Unfortunately we have a prime minister whohas the armour plating of a rhinoceros without any of its goodsense.”I didn’t know much about politics. Father and Mothercomplained regularly about Mrs. Gandhi, but it meant little tome. She lived far away in the north, not at the zoo and not inPondicherry. But I felt I had to say something. The white wolfRead More →

Mr. Kumar was the first avowed atheist I ever met. Idiscovered this not in the classroom but at the zoo. He was aregular visitor who read the labels and descriptive notices intheir entirety and approved of every animal he saw. Each tohim was a triumph of logic and mechanics, and nature as awhole was an exceptionally fine illustration of science. To hisears, when an animal felt the urge to mate, it said “GregorMendel”, recalling the father of genetics, and when it was timeto show its mettle, “Charles Darwin”, the father of naturalselection, and what we took to be bleating, grunting, hissing,snorting, roaring, growling, howling, chirpingRead More →

He’s an excellent cook. His overheated house is alwayssmelling of something delicious. His spice rack looks like anapothecary’s shop. When he opens his refrigerator or hiscupboards, there are many brand names I don’t recognize;in fact, I can’t even tell what language they’re in. We arein India. But he handles Western dishes equally well. Hemakes me the most zestyyet subtle macaroni and cheese I’veever had. And his vegetarian tacos would be the envy of allMexico. I notice something else: his cupboards are jam-packed. Behind every door, on every shelf, stand mountains ofneatly stacked cans and packages. A reserve of food to lastthe siege of Leningrad. ChapterRead More →

“I am glad that you could come,” she said, but the words were stilted, not especially cordial, and again that inexplicable feeling of uneasiness swept over Roberta. The snowmelt only made him hungrier. It was food his belly craved, not water. The snow had stopped falling, but the wind was rising, filling the air with crystal, slashing at his face as he   struggled through the drifts, the wound in his side opening and closing again. His breath made a ragged white cloud. When he reached the weirwood tree, he found a fallen branch just long   enough to use as a crutch. Leaning heavilyRead More →