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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Animal Encounters

When I think of the various animals that I have encountered in my life, the list is pretty long. Loads of animals and memories that go with each one of these creatures.
My very first memory is of tiny pink suckling mice pups that my cousins and I used to find under a drain cover as kids and pulled them out to play with them by placing them on a bed of hibiscus leaves. Disgusting, I know. The thought gives me jitters now but yes...did it. The cats that stealthily came in from the back yard and lapped up the milk that was left on the gas stove. There would be the sound of the lid clanging loudly on the floor and one of us would dash to the kitchen. As an 8 year old, while cycling around the neighbourhood park, I encountered a bunch of kids pelting stones at some abandoned pups. I threatened to hand them over to the police if they did not take them in and happily cycled home with one of the pups myself. Jimmy, a cross breed, who lived to be 16 and the last pair of socks he chewed up were those of the husband on the day our wedding got fixed. I can't imagine why ;) but yeah I could smell the jealousy.
Then there were monkeys that some how found their way to our homes during the summer and left behind half eaten fruits on the trees and the terrace. There was also a group of monkeys that would come in to our classrooms in school. The school building was an old, single storeyed structure and access was easy. I remember all of us shrieking and scrambling out of the class room while the monkeys made merry with all our bags. On many ocassions, our lunch boxes were sadly carried away by these monsters. Then there was the parrot that a tarrot card reader would carry. The pigeons and sparrows that came in to feast on the various stuff (papads, vadiums etc) my mother would leave to dry out in the sun again during the summer. The two fat lizards that lived in our house and had a special attraction towards me. I used to enjoy late night conversations on the phone with friends and had a couple of close encounters with these two. Once on the shoulder and once on my head.They would normally hide behind my grandfather's photo frame on the wall but after these encounters, I would closely be on the watch and believe me when I say that they would come out of their hiding the minute I settled in the room and would slowly make their way right above me....shudder! One day, I decided to take it up as a challenge and brought in the big handled cobweb cleaning jhadu  (broom) & we went around the whole place, me after them or them trying to terrorize me  with their ready to jump at me pose. Those were terrible times! I seem to have a great affinity for these bloody reptiles as another traumatic memory I have is from university times when I lived in the campus hostel. The campus was in the city outskirts and surrounded by a forest area, so sightings and encounters were common. This was a morning encounter on a particularly busy day when I got into the shower. Hung the towel and the clothes, got out of the last remnants of what I was wearing and chucked them out of the bathroom and saw a wild lizard (the monstrous black grey ones you would normally see in the wild) creep in from the window. We both stared at each other in shock for what seemed like ages and then as I made shooing sounds to ask it to go back the way it came in, it seemed hell bent on coming my way. These wild ones know no fear. I learnt it the hard way. Just as I decided I would need to escape from the tiny bathroom and reached for my towel, the wretched lizard made a quick dash and jumped right into those clothes hung on the hooks behind the door, making me a prisoner. I had to holler loudly and get someone to throw in a fresh towel from the top of the door before I could make my way out. After that incident, hostel showers were a quick 3 minute affair with my eyes glued to the bathroom window!
The next memory I have is of the first time I visited Gurgaon. Hubby was a resident managing vet on a horse breeding farm. We had a bungalow right in the middle of the farm. It was the month of December and a very busy foaling time. He got called away for a delivery the same night we arrived and I was left to myself in the bungalow surrounded by a paddock on two sides, a farm area with alfa alfa on one and a huge lawn area in the front. I was woken up by a loud thudding sound from the top of the house and just as I wondered about the source, I  was shocked by a loud snorting from the bedroom window. ;) To my total wonder and surprise, the place was surrounded by horses. It was early dawn and I decided to venture out to get a closer look at the horses from the fence that separated the paddock from the bungalow and opened the front door to find a peacock jump in right in front of me from the roof (the source of the loud thudding). Life on the stud farm was filled with many more animal memories but the horses and peacocks remain the most memorable.
Later, after we moved to Singapore, I worked with a French company that was doing research at the Singapore zoo on the long tailed macaques(monkeys) & had the opportunity to watch and work with a colony of 52 monkeys. Each one had a unique personality. During this time, the zoo authorities had rescued two gibbons which were also under my care. The female was a cute little thing called Wahila. The male was a ferocious bugger called Bosley. Wahila was temperamental and threw tantrums very often ;) (very female) but it was Bosley who surprised me the most. He was a charming guy and enjoyed all the attention I gave him. On one occasion, I had a couple of interns who had come in to watch the colony and I spent lesser time than usual with Bosley that morning. He went on a rampage within his cage and made a complete battle field on the place. As the interns finished and were stepping out, Bosley put his arm out from the one square  hole in the cage and grabbed one of them by the throat, literally choking him before we could could set him free. Jealousy!!! Even gibbons!!!

My stint in the zoo gave me the opportunity to have close encounters with many more exquisite creatures. There was baby tamarin monkey which was abandoned by its mother right after birth and had to be hand fed until it could be released back amongst its own. There was a baby wallaby, Volley again abandoned by its mother and we took tutns carrying the little guy in a cloth bag just like it would have been carried in the pouch by its mother. Volley was released back to mix with his kind but for many days he would still make his way towards any of us who walked into the wallaby enclosure. There was a little doe that hurt it's neck and needed to be isolated and cared for some time before it could be released. It was one hungry little chap that sucked up the feed within a minute. There are so many more memories to share and I will end up writing a book if I wrote them all.
The mammoth sized earthworms during zoology practicals, the cockroach whose salivary glands got me full marks in the finals where I was to exhibit the digestive system and I was the only student who had left the salivary glands intact and beautifully displayed with a black film roll beneath :) Then the days of December when we used to sing Christmas carols and hymns during assembly in the morning and immediately after that had the zoology practical session where, I was busy singing "oh come let us adore him..." , while totally engrossed in a big fat frog that lay in front causing ripples of laughter.  I was a terror in class and always had something up my sleeve. I told the class it was always a good idea to practically see the organism bring studied and told them I would bring in roaches to the class and how they are not to worry if they felt something climbing up their feet. This obviously had them jittery and panicky with random disturbances across the class during the lecture.  Lol! No, I did not carry any roaches. Just the thought gave them the jitters I guess ;)
The lecturer came to know later about the source of disturbance and decided to get even during a practical test ;)
I remember I was to display the venous system of the frog and that's where I was busy singing and just as I was cutting open the skin, the lecturer startled me by calling all the dept lecturers to listen to my singing. I looked up to find the whole dept standing right across with amused expressions. In my embarrassment, I cut off the anterior abdominal vein. 😢😢😢
During a visit to Kerala, my cousins and I went to a hill resort about 50 km from Calicut and did a lot of trekking and walked through the hills to get to a particularly scenic waterfall. On our drive back, my aunt who had taken off her footwear to relieve her aching feet suddenly felt a wetness under her feet and looked down to see a pool of fresh blood! She quickly called our attention and started asking if any of us was hurt. She was quick to spot a dark stain on my jeans just above my right ankle and asked me to pull it up. There it was, happily settled and languishing in my blood, a big fat, tenacious leech, suckling away my blood. The incident took me straight to my zoology lecture where we studied how the leeches secrete an anticoagulant in their saliva that allows the blood to flow easily as well as something about the sucker that made the bite painless to the victim. I was shocked to see the bloody thing stuck to my leg and even more traumatised by the fact that it got into my jeans and I had no clue and no sensation of the bite. For ages, after that incident I kept checking my legs every now and then in the fear of finding the blood sucking parasite. Luckily , that was the last time.

There was the tiger encounter at the tiger temple in Thailand. Back then , it seemed like such a thrilling thing to be able to make a physical contact with the majestic creature but today I understand the implications of what human greed can do to wildlife. I also got to feed ostriches, kangaroos and koalas in Australia.

The latest one is of a pink necked green pigeon family that decided to make our balcony garden their home. The kids and I got to watch them build the nest,  saw the eggs and were able to follow the entire journey of the chicks until they flew away. .

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