BENGALURU: Man is a gregarious animal – we were taught this line in school, but I only understood the true meaning of this sentence a few days back. My first connection with animals was at the Nandankanan Zoo in Bhubaneswar, which has the unique distinction of housing the most bored animals on the planet.
The tigers and lions would stare at people like they were high on opium. The snakes never stepped out of their quarters, even though lines of visitors slithered around their cages. Peacocks rarely spread their wings out to dance, considering Odisha is largely a humid place. The only ones having a ball were monkeys, who stepped out of their enclosures and attacked people for groundnuts.
My connection with animals came from books and movies. Famous Five, Secret Seven, Chacha Chaudhary, and Raja-Rancho. My parents never allowed us to have a pet – it was assumed that pets were for rich people. What we had instead, was a white stray dog named Tipu that was fed unfinished rice and curry. Flashforward to decades later, and I live in a street filled with IT employees and party animals.
The predictable schedules, wide roads, and a lack of traffic makes my locality a haven for all kinds of birds and animals. The one creature I miss the most is the tiny sparrow. While researching for this article, I found out that sparrows were targeted and executed by the Mao regime in China. Turns out, there were huge ecological repercussions from the act, since sparrows also ate a lot of insects. With large malls and skyscrapers, I can’t even remember the last time I saw a sparrow.
We have a lot of pigeons though, and I have mixed feelings for the species. Pigeons have adapted fairly well to urban landscapes, making AC outlets their foster homes. My flat has three balconies, and pigeons have colonised two of them – marking their territory by leaving their droppings on my dried clothes to show me who’s boss. While the status of a cow has been elevated from ‘Aye, shoo!’ to ‘Go Mata’, I don’t think the cows in my locality are aware of this change. They still walk about chewing newspaper and polythene, lying about on the side of the road as crows play hide and seek all over them. There are hardly any bulls around, and I wonder if it’s because they didn’t get any promotion in the last fiscal year.
The cats in my locality behave exactly like cats, and chose not to step out while I was taking the census for this article. I glimpsed upon a few here and there, but when they saw me, they stopped licking their paws and magically vanished. My biggest disappointment however, is reserved for dogs. I have found that dogs that live near shawarma shops and chicken centres lead a more fulfilling life than dogs outside temples and mosques.
I found a white stray dog that reminded me of Tipu, and befriended him. While going to work, I used to feed him biscuits and pat his furry head. Fat and lazy, Tipu was clearly used to affection and adulation. However, I was shocked while returning home a few days ago. I was walking back, and Tipu started barking at me! As it usually happens with dogs, word spread around quickly, and very soon I had a pack of dogs barking at me till I reached my building. I tried to make eye contact with Tipu, but he avoided my gaze, as if to say ‘work is work, bro!’.
At first, I was disappointed. Dogs were supposed to be man’s first friends, and here I was experiencing a brutal betrayal by a bitter Brutus. But when I reached my home, I realised there was no point
getting emotional about these things. We human beings aren’t too different – we work all day for food, hunt on prey at work, protect our territories, and give out mating calls to the other gender. We are all animals here, in this concrete jungle that feeds on fire in the belly.
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