July 5, 2014

'A mighty will stands paralyzed.'

Last evening, as I joined hundreds of visitors at the Mystic Aquarium, Connecticut, more than joy in seeing so many animals from the wild in one place, there was a strange ache that I felt. My children were elated to see the beautiful Beluga whales trying to touch, tease and even smile; against thick glass walls that held them captive. A 2 year old American Alligator expressed her sheer displeasure in being touched by hundreds of children and adults, by wriggling her tail and grabbing thin air with her twitched paws in what seemed to be like a losing battle.

I felt sad watching sea horses, at least a few tens of them clinging and clutching onto plastic sea plants and weeds. Schools of colorful fish swam along under bright lights in glass boxes that have been painted in all colors and patterns artificial. Nothing but glorified fish tanks.

                                             ( image : http://fusedjaw.com/aquariumcare/seahorse-care-guide/)
The California Sea Lions amazed me with their agility. They danced to a desired tune. They tossed their big, fat bodies in air, swam like whales, watched videos on big screens while turning to look at their keepers' expressions in between and offered several hand/flipper shakes and even flipper applause. I thought they looked cute, and joined my children in enjoying the show, but at the very bottom of my heart, the ache stayed.

The penguins weren't especially pleased with their tiny little habitat made of artificial rock and caves. They looked moody to me. Or they didn't like the crowd clicking flash photographs non-stop. Or some of them haven't yet been on medications for depression or moodiness.

                                                                (image: http://wallpoper.com/wallpaper/animals-penguins-361954)
Imagine being in a room, without a hideout, where you are being watched constantly by strangers; all possible tribes? My memory traced an image from the Mysore zoo- when a lone, agitated gorilla ran from one end of its closed enclosure to the other end, unable to handle visitors teasing and mocking his acts.

I tried to console myself. With many natural habitats shrinking, may be a zoo would be a better place for these animals in captivity. Also, I must say that I was indeed happy in the marshes where wild frogs camouflaged so beautifully amidst wild water plants, jumping from one lily pad to another, caring for none watching them.Their sense of belonging; high.

(image: www.uprootedphotographer.com)
In the wild, the life spans of some of these animals are much less, owing to the prey-predator equation, and is heavily dependent on which side of the equation they stand. But in zoos, the life spans of animals are much more than in the wild, thanks to regular antibiotics, bleaches, anti-depressants, and other medical/ clinical interventions. But given an option, they would like to return to where they belonged. Once upon a time.
Rilke as a phenomenon happened recently in my life. Once I discovered him, there was a strong connection between us. When I read Panther, I thought he echoed my thoughts, my feelings, my angst.


His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly--. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone. 


'A mighty will stands paralyzed.' 

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