Saturday, June 14, 2003
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L


What would you choose: security or freedom?
Khushwant Singh

YANN Martel in his delightfully readable book Life of Pi (Penguin) expresses the opinion that animals in well-maintained zoos are much better off, healthier and live longer than animals in the wild. His arguments make good sense. In the wild, carnivores live off herbivores. All animals are very vulnerable when newly born and unable to run away to safety with their parents or herds. Predators who live by hunting often go without food for many days and some die of hunger or thirst. This does not happen in zoos. Animals are provided with food of their liking at fixed hours in their enclosures as guests in a hotel get room service. Neither they nor their young are at the mercy of predators. Whereas the rate of infant mortality is very high in the wild, it is low or non-existent in zoos. In the wild, male animals battle with each other to acquire females and frequently suffer serious injuries which maim them for life. In zoos, females are provided to males, and vice-versa, so that they can procreate without rivals intruding on their private lives. In the wild, animals with serious injuries have no recourse to medical aid and usually end up being eaten by others. Well-kept zoos have vets who keep animals in good health till they die peaceful deaths. It can be established that given the choice of living in freedom in the wild or living in security provided by zoos, all animals would opt for the latter. This is proved by the fact when some animal or some bird escapes from a zoo, it runs around for a while and then of its own comes back to its enclosure where it is assured security from dangers of living in freedom.

EARLIER COLUMNS
The hullabaloo over conversions
June 7, 2003
The treadmill of Indo-Pak relations
May, 31, 2003
Why Indians turn into achievers abroad
May, 10, 2003
The Naked Triangle fetched him more foes than friends
May, 3, 2003
When will the Arabs rise from medieval slumber?
April, 26, 2003
Lies in the guise of war reports
April, 19, 2003
Villain of yesteryear becomes a hero
April, 12, 2003
He has lived life on his own terms
April, 5, 2003
Birthday celebrations that leave a bad taste
March 29, 2003
Why deny ourselves sensual pleasures?
March 15, 2003
Gaumata and the beef-eaters
March 8, 2003

What about humans? All said and done, we are also animals. We differ from other species of life inasmuch as we can think better because we have bigger brains and can convert our thoughts into speech. And we talk a lot of the virtues of freedom to live as we like and say what comes to our minds. Our mottos are "give me liberty or death; freedom or nothing" and other noble-sounding sentiments. Not many of us have, however, experienced security provided by well-kept jails. There you donít have to worry about where your next meal will come from; it is provided free of charge by your jailors. You donít have to worry about your property or business or about murders or robberies.

You are provided with suitable clothing, given time to take exercise and after doing chores assigned to you, you are free to socialise with other inmates, play games or read books. When you fall sick, there is a doctor at your beck and call and the prison hospital to nurse you back to good health. Medical services and medicines are also free. The only thing missing in all jails are opportunities for healthy sex. I am sure in the very near future, wives or girlfriends will be allowed to visit their husbands or boyfriends in jail and cater to their needs. Make your own balance sheet. On the credit side of time in jail, is total security and provision for the essentials of life. On the debit side, inability to go where you like ó restaurants, cinema houses, clubs ó and enjoy company of your relations and cronies. But thrown with them is the struggle for existence, enemies and the general hurly burly of the so-called civilised existence. Which world would you choose? And why?

The bliss of solitude

My days are swifter than a weaverís shuttle. But unlike those of the long-suffering Job of the Old Testament who was perfect and upright, feared God and eschewed evil, they are not spent without hope. I have long sleep and get up much later than I do when I am in Delhi. I am woken by the sun streaming through my eastern window, the cawing of hill crows or a monkey scampering over my tin roof. I take a deep breath and fill my nostrils with the fragrance of honeysuckle which grows about the walls of my little villa. Oí you dwellers of cities who rise to the phut phut of three-wheelers or the raucous blasts of bus horns, come to the mountains! Here you will meet no enemies but balmy weather. You will not fill your lungs with vapours of petrol or diesel but life-giving ozone distilled from the skies, pines, cedars and hemlock. My days begin with hope; I will be able to scribble a few lines which people may find readable; yours begin with despair to get through your daily chores. You have to interact with noisy people; Ienjoy the bliss of solitude.

One great advantage of being all alone over a long period of time is you donít get stressed out by too many visitors. In Delhi they come in an incessant stream and outstay their welcome. There are times my nerves get frayed and I want to scream, "Get out all of you and I want to be left alone." When you are, in fact, left alone for a long time you look forward to someone dropping in to say hullo and exchange a little gossip! It is best to create a reputation that you canít stand people for too long. Locals know it. They ring up before they come. My neighbours, the Chooramanis, are a stand-by whenever Iíve had my fill of solitude. Guptaji, the store-wallah; Kuldip Munshi and his father visit me only once during my stay; S.C. Prasher, retired Commissioner of Income Tax, has no small talk and is forever weighed down by the problems of existence: where do we come from?Why? Where do we go? He visits me twice during my stay. So do the Siddhus, Poonam and Karan, both in the IAS. She comes loaded with exotic food which lasts me a week. I donít have a proper cook, so their visits are doubly welcome. This time Poonam brought her parents ó father, a retired Colonel, and mother, an attractive housewife. What they left behind would take care of me for the rest of my stay. A few are strangers, nervous of reception they will get. Ruchi Gupta of Parwanoo and a student of Ayurveda said bluntly, "I am told you donít like people; Ijust wanted to say Namastey." She refused to sit down. Two youngmen from a neighbouring village wanted my advice. "I want to be a journalist. I write poems and letters to the editor, but they never get published. What should I do?"

"Donít write poetry or send letters to the editor. There is no future in journalism,"I told him. "I want to become a doctor,"said the other. "Go ahead; noble profession."And that was that. Two other visitors I welcomed were Manmohan Kohli who owns Aroma Hotel at Chandigarh and his wife Ritu who is a professor of psychology at Government College in Chandigarh. He talks well. She looks better ó a strapping, good-looking sardarni. They saved me from living on packet soups and tinned food for three days.

Idonít get much work done because nature provides too many distractions. There is much activity round my two birdbaths. I have put them up for birds to slake their thirst; they treat them like bathing pools, splash water and preen themselves right under my nose. Stray dogs, rhesus monkeys and langoors come in groups and drink up whatever remains. Every evening Ihave to refill the bird baths so that I can see them enjoy themselves. Before I know, the sun dips down over the western horizon and shades of the evening take me in their embrace; swarms of mosquitoes force me to turn in.

The day is over. I have done little to show for it. However, I am not stricken with a guilty conscience. "All work is vanity," says the Holy Book, "So why bother?" So my evening prayer: "I will lay me down in peace, and take my rest." Drugged by the fresh mountain air and coming to terms with my conscience, I sleep the sleep of the just. You can only get it if you learn to live in solitude.

Prohibited dowry

I want a comely wife

My Mother ó cash and cars.

Mummy, let me enter the nuptial cage

Donít throw me behind the bars!

(Courtesy: G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)

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