1988 was one of the very bad years from the point of view of my seasonal discomfitures and crises. It was also the most productive in terms of the trivia that I keep churning out. Since blog had not come into being then, most of it disappeared or was destroyed because it could not survive periodic post production scrutiny. Some did survive. Friends, Foes and Faceless Jokers is one such piece. Many others though not destroyed, went out of sight. The post that follows belongs to this category.
Like everyone else I also was bitten by the bug of getting published and I remember having fallen for an offer made by my classmate, who was then teaching in Patna University, that he would see to it that I achieved authorship. After he collected the copy, he never quite mentioned anything about it. I thought I had lost out the rhymes as well as the opportunity of seeing it published, because on the few occasions I met him I was too shy to ask. But one of my periodic bonfires of old papers which have outlived their utility, brought to light not only this, but many longer rhymes and other doggerel verse.
The Fable for our Times was scribbled when my children were in the primary section (if I remember correctly, one of them was in the KG) and they were required to write something on their visit to the zoo for their class assignment. This piece grew out of that collective effort and is dedicated to those innocent uncomplicated years of their childhood which dispelled the officially incurred gloom in our lives and kept us going.
A FABLE FOR OUR TIMES
The caged animals of Sanjay Gandhi Zoo
Had enough of the veritable hell
That they were living through.
They had overheard their keepers,
Game wardens and lion tamers,
Talk of kindness to animals, but alas!
For this story there were no takers.
For in their hearts, they all knew
That all the talk of preserving the species
Was nothing more than a diversion
With which man himself amuses.
The most disgruntled of the whole lot of beasts
Were none other than the monkeys, apes and Chimpanzees.
The word spread through the underground channels.
(To such silent communication systems there are no human parallels!)
The time and venue for the meeting was published in
Zoo times-the animal samizdat
The zookeepers were unfortunately unaware of this
Coup de etat.
The meeting began on a very acrimonious note.
A lot of fire was breathed,
In danger stood many a throat.
But as the day wore on,
The deliberations assumed
A somber tone.
From some weak livered member in the crowd
Escaped a piteous moan.
The wizened sage, hirsute and shaggy
But taking a distinctly biped stance,
“Gentlemen and ladies, no hypocrisies here,
We are animals please”.
And shot a meaningful glance.
“Why have we been deprived of our liberty?
Not to speak of our property.
Separated from friends,
Plucked away from our habitat
And forced to live on human charity?
Why is it that what is sauce for the human goose,
Is not sauce for the animal gander?
The humans may the outer space colonize
But we can’t even at our pleasure wander.
The jungles here on our terra firma.
You must excuse me my meandering discourse.
But for describing our suffering and their wickedness,
One must perforce to metaphors and allegories take recourse.
Even then I wonder
Full justice could be done to their cursedness.
So I’ll do no better than introduce,
My dear friend, who is part clown, part impresario
For our benefit here, he will reduce,
His vast experience of the human inferno and purgatorio.”
A monkey gets up with great distaste
“Gentlemen! I am not keen on polemical debate.
Especially, if it is directed towards our closest mate.
Even though they may disown us for their own reasons.
If you ask me I am always at a loss,
When I watch my cage keeper speak to his boss.
He shivers before him in season and out of season.
He sniggers and he twitters
And engages in meaningless chatter.
He keeps devising ingenious ways to flatter.
Why, his antics and his chatter
His acrobatic and his natter,
Would put many of our less endowed colleagues to shame.”
A hyena could no more contain himself.
“My experience of the human species, stated precisely
Explains why our kind avoids them - and wisely.
They are cunning and deceitful, opportunists and slimy
Self serving, egotistical, hypocritical and wily
I shall illustrate the above generalization with a pointed tale.
Of how two close friends were trying to grab
An opportunity with mutual blackmail”.
A pig who might have been sleeping but now looked interested
Drew a deep yawn as a prelude and this is what he narrated.
“I saw a fat khadi clad man talk to his minions, bless our hearts!
And now I am convinced that a man is made of many parts.
(The fatso was holding his court, according to the latest report.
Discussing the state of things and what to report,
To the court of the highest resort.)
The worthy in white grunted and growled,
He put on a most becoming scowl.
The minions and lackeys shivered and whimpered,
Licked, lowed and ceaselessly kowtowed.
When the worthy grunted I thought he was one of our kind.
When, he growled of the big cat did he remind.
The lackeys in turn made me think of the skunk,
Of the louse who crawls on to your shirt and the lowest punk.
And my considered opinion may be reiterated
That man has complete affinity with us - some stated, some unstated.
How! Oh! How highly is his worth overrated”?
A peacock in the backbenches was dying to have his say.
“Ladies, gentleman and friends I would like to continue this tale, if I may.
I saw this same worthy pay court and obeisance to his big daddy in New Delhi.
When he strutted out of his house with lackeys in tow.
Proud as a peacock, bold as a lion,
So sure of himself everyone was forced to bow.
But no sooner than he reached his Mecca, the Jerusalem of Power.
He shrank in size: he almost cringed in craven terror.
The presiding deity proved to be more than his match
He called the likes of our hero in one single batch.
Our pilgrim’s aura left him, he couldn’t articulate,
Left destitute of words, he was in a terrible state.
How sad to say, the peacock, the lion of pedigree pure,
Was suddenly reduced to a rabbit, a mole who couldn’t the daylights endure”
The terrestrial animals had until now held complete sway,
The marine mammals it was thought had nothing to say.
But for a dolphin known for his linguistic abilities.
He had made a special study of governments and hermeneutics.
“Gentleman, you are all aware of the human aural deficiencies.
They can pick up sounds only of limited frequencies,
But they have devised words, sentence, syntax and grammar.
In short language to the world of phenomena acts as their primer.
However, their language bears only a very rough approximation to the picture of reality,
These imprecise tools constantly deteriorate with use and are witness to their brutality.
When the humans say ‘Peace’ the wiser amongst them promptly prepare for war
If they say ‘accord’ people apprehensively look for signs of discord,
All the nations have ministries of defence,
Ever ready to invade and attack
But defence is always the pretense.
The ministry of employment ensures unemployment,
The ministry of education assiduously shuts out enlightenment.
Some of us still remember the dawn of human civilization.
Many of our kind actively participated in its celebration.
Language was hailed as a gift of the gods.
It held out promise of an era of peace, of cordiality and accord.
But great expectations have gone wry.
On the list of potentially threatened animals,
He himself ranks high.
Standing in the shadow of nuclear doom.
Haunted by the fear of ecological blight and population boom.
The human race displays a remarkable sense of humour
He creates funds for this or that extinct species
And revives an extinct tuber.
But at his back he fails to hear.
The great Mushroom cloud hurrying near”.
The congregation was silent; the atmosphere took an eerie tinge.
The portents of doom were enough to unsettle and unhinge
For what seemed like eons no one spoke,
Except a twittering sparrow, the silly bloke,
Everyone looked to the aged eagle, apparently distraught.
For comfort, for solace for sobering thought.
Could silence be jarring, could sheer emptiness have weight?
The eagle’s long, silent, world-weary look accelerated their pulse rate.
The winged ancestor, the solemn sage, of greater disasters did presage,
“There is no disputing our affinity, our resemblance and common lineage.
But why make an issue of it!
Let the humans think they are different, damn it!
Let us look back a little to the beginning of Time.
When the cosmos was taking shape, the fireball was in its prime.
There was only the indeterminate, undifferentiated primeval soup.
You couldn’t get anything out of it,
How hard or how long you did scoop.
Then rose the anaerobic forms (of shall we say life)
Setting some criteria.
Paving the way for the rise of many strains of bacteria.
From bacteria to unicellular creatures.
To amoeba with shapeless features.
From reptiles to winged beast that nightly feasts.
From Dinosaurs to the fleet footed arboreal beasts.
Ladder upon ladder, brick by brick.
The evolutionary strategy unfolded its trick.
(Only partly discovered by Watson & Crick)
Till the creation of our cousin - Man
At this point it seems, the unforeseen fingerers
On further innovations put a ban,
But of all the species the most selfish is man.
His altruism has different meanings in different contexts.
So that he can kill sperm whales and his own infants on various pretexts.
The other species enriched the genetic pool furthering the evolutionary end.
But if things are left to man himself he will to himself and to evolution itself put an end.
In his moment of glory unfolds his tragic story.
He has measured the interstellar spaces, propounded the relativity theory.
He has delved into the heart of the atom and mapped the subfor nical region.
He has listened to the music of spheres, the call of the
Men of vision.
But alas! Is his mind within the governance of his reason?
There is the other strain - The Siren’s song.
The one that urges them on to suicide and swan’s song.
The Pied piper comes in every age - only the disguise varies
He plays a tune which urges them to give in to irrational vagaries.
In the days of yore it was the sea-deep and blue
In our times they are the Perishings, the Cruise and the Tridents - in steel grey hue.
The ozone layer depletion, the urban chaos,
The population boom, the superpower fracas,
The scourge of AIDS, the deadly plague.
The endless hedonism, the death wish vague.
Drugs, psychiatric abuse, mass manipulation.
Funless fornication and instant gratification.
It is the tragic flaw of which the Greek playwrights warned.
And how would the world end?
Not in the manner one of their kind suggested,
Not with a ‘whimper’; not in a calculated cataclysmic upheaval as predicted.
It will go up in smoke overtaken by the Mushroom cloud.
Not precipitated by some superpower mighty and proud.
Some faceless, depersonalized creature, part man part computer,
To the question whether the human race has a right to survive,
Will be the final adjudicator.
Bored by his enforced loneliness, ennui
Or the sheer metaphysical horror.
Of the awareness of the enormity of his diabolical role,
Sitting in fear and trembling at the nuclear control,
May press the button without waiting for orders,
It would be as if the entire house were to be blown up
While the evening was still young and the revelers keyed up,
For a long night’s carousal and a bomb were to go off;
Leaving the house in shambles,
No trace of anything left off.
No culprits, victims, survivors, nor adjudicators,
No media men, T.V. Crews, antinuke demonstrators.
None left to lament or investigate
No historians, reporters or parliamentarians to debate.
Reptiles, bulls, lions or tigers,
Fish, mammals, predaters or primates.
Genes, chromosomes, DNA and gametes
Blood, marrow, arteries and bone
Beans, peas, cornflower or stone.
Man, mineral, reinforced concrete,
Underground shelter or nuclear silo.
The Colorado Desert or the Assam Rhino.
They will all merge and intermingle.
The barriers will melt and species commingle.
The fever of the vein, the ague of the bones,
The serotonin in blood , the secretion of the hormones.
All will have settled down in the planetary soup,
Where nothing into nothing from nothing recoup.
No blame will be apportioned, no credit sought,
No wars over the wording of obituaries fought.
The ghost of Mark Twain will join the Satan to grin with
An evil chuckle.
“What is left of what it was?
Nothing, nothing, nothing