I have always liked going to the zoo – liked the idea that is. The last time I went to a zoo was in Paris in 2003 – to Jardin Des Plantes, very close to where I lived.
Time constraints, work pressure and distance have ensured that it has remained just that - a plan. I tried to in Delhi but in vain. Here in Kolkata, I keep passing the Alipore Zoological Gardens and keep making mental plans to visit it.
Yesterday, I went visiting my pals and the weather being cloudy and overcast, we decided to visit the zoo along with their two bubbly kids (they, I am sure would say that "bubbly" would be the understatement of the century).
Atlast was the chance to relive the thrill of my childhood visits to the zoo. For M & S, it was a place of fond memories of another kind – a frequent haunt during their courtship days – a place so far away and so not-on-the-agenda-of-family that it was the securest and best place for many a romantic tryst.
All of us were in for a shock. The oldest zoo in the country and inaugurated on January 1, 1876 by Edward VII, then Prince of Wales no less Overgrown, unkempt,empty broken cages and pens? What little animals there were, were all asleep, comatose even. What was this ruin?
There - that's where I had thrown a handful of peanuts to the large bear and one had landed just out of the bear's reach. Clever thing, put its snout close to the grill and inhaled deeply and the peanut rolled inside and it to its paws! And over here...the lajja bati bandors - who would cringe and try to merge with the foliage. And over there were the tigers - son of Rupa and Deepak, mother of Rani and Raja, (Which had prompted R, my sis to ask in a very loud for a 4 year old voice - "Ma, do tigers get married?")!!
Look, M would frequently stop to say, we sat there on the grass; And we ate ice creams over there on the stepsthere and remember when we bumped into a cousin...
Not just our memories. These and a million other wonderful happy memories....all buried under debris, litter and wreckage. It would have been tolerable had things altered, made way for the better. We would have sighed at "modernization" but would be happy about the changes.
The reptile house was once such a big draw. And now, we had to squint through the ill lit dirty panes of the glass cases to find, if at all, a lethargic snake curled up in the innermost recess.
And Adwaita the 250 year old turtle from Galagagos islands. [He thankgod, passed away and is now in turtle heaven].
And the grounds filled with beautiful old buildings -- now empty, broken down and the ubiquitous gamcha and lungi hanging on a string ... caretaker and family must have moved in.
The crowd was there as were food stalls, selling their wares briskly which meant empty plastic bottles, packets adding to the general litter.
Does nothing work here? Apparently not. I wish I hadn't gone. Atleast I'd still remember the wonderful visits of the past.
I could have done much better if I had sat indoors, surfing like I do on a Sunday and read about the Alipore Zoological Gardens on Wikipedia and went on a trip down memory lane.
Like all things in Bengal, the zoo too is historical. However, History would better describe it. Next on my agenda was the Botanical Gardens. But I think I will spare myself the agony.