Thursday, 22 November 2007


Tiger in zoo

(Note: I take the title from Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story”, a one act play. What could be more fitting title for any man-made zoo? This story was written on the occasion, when an architect friend from Vadodara City wrote about the proposed shifting of zoo from the Sayaji Garden to a location near Ajava Lake outside the city, and asked for suggestions.)

THE BEST EVER ‘ZOO’ is that made by the Nature. A zoo made by civilised society is only a ‘museum’ even if it is for ‘living’ animals. Museums are for artefacts, the stuffed animals.


Progressive people may make any effort to make a zoo near to natural environment to showcase living animals. It, however, is not anyway different than ‘Mickey & Donald’ and ‘Tom & Jerry’ stuff, or Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’. They implant human virtues and vices upon animal world.

Howsoever vast wooded area may be available to ‘Chidia Ghar’ – zoo – at Delhi; the animals are kept far from their natural environment, restricted, of course, to cages for obvious reasons. There a larger proportion of land is left for the visitors, far too large for their numbers. Here again, the civilised ‘pleasure-of-seeing’ culture dominates. Humans ‘see’ the animals; animals look at the open zoo beyond their cages where humans pretend to move freely in their fragmented world. Perhaps the animals even may be thinking, ‘what kind of slum the humans have created to dump us?”

Sayaji Garden or popularly known ‘Kamati Baug’, including the zoo, at Baroda had once sympathetic environment in spite of its limitations until late 1960s. Its original design was maintained until then.

On the contrary, even a household garden could be a thriving wild life sanctuary in miniature if sensitively developed. It requires, of course, constant observation and care, which may take one closer to the elements and one may have divine experience of life. But man thinks s/he is the centre of the world, universe, and wants to control and dominate it. Then what about the land, water, animals, vegetation, and vast majority of people who are mute?

Features of a zoo

THE FIRST ELEMENT is the land (and water). The land should be restored (reforested) with vegetation: grasses (including bamboo), bushes, vines and trees of indigenous species. They should be fruit-seed-flower-bearing varieties, and condiments, spices, fibres, herbal medicines, and aquatic plants.. Grasses may include even cereals such as, wheat, rice raised by broadcasting seeds. There need not be manicured lawns.

If there are no existing watercourses and water bodies, than new ‘natural’ ponds and channels should be designed and created, by changing and building new contours to land.
This should enable harvesting and conservation of rainwater. Species of trees (vegetation) may be suitably selected for different animals in different areas.

Reforestation helps to restore and raise subsoil water table over a period of time. Reforestation also helps to restore wild life in the area. There is rich and variety of wild life in different regions of India. Some wild life may be introduced in the zoo; some will find their way into the area, for example, langur, squirrels, birds etc.

If human intervention is restricted in the land for reforestation during the development, the forest will grow faster and healthy.

THE SECOND ELEMENT is the animals. Animals include mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects etc. inside and outside the cages in the zoo.

It is already accepted that to keep wild animals in captivity is immoral, even illegal, and that they should be restored to their natural habitat. There are persons and organisations committed to save endangered species, help their breeding and leave them to their natural habitat. Zoo should be more than a museum.

How much area each animal should have?
How to bring security and sustenance to the wild life outside the cages?
These are some of the vital questions needed to be resolved.

THE THIRD ELEMENT is the human. The humans at the ‘zoo’ besides the visitors are the caretakers of the imprisoned animals, of land and water and of plantation. These humans are generally addressed as ‘staff’. Do they love and understand animals, land, water and plants like a farmer? Or do bureaucratic red tape and protocol bog them down, like executives, planners and experts?

How much land should be provided for the visitors other than for strictly pedestrian access – pathways? Of course, no automobiles other than in the case of emergency, no tar or concrete roads, no concrete buildings there at the zoo; only earth macadam roads.

Electricity should be supplied by alternative energy sources, occasionally supported by the conventional supply. Electrical lighting should be minimum and controlled by careful design.
Animal dung and droppings should be disposed i.e. utilised carefully. For example, some birds use the cat dung in building their nests to protect them from the predators.

‘Zoo Story’

‘Zoo’ reminds me of “Zoo Story”, the one-act play by Edward Albee. The play has many dimensions; one of them is the ‘animal’ in man, civilised man. In the 1960s once I had met the attendant of the crocodile park in the palace compound at Baroda. He had established a bond with the crocs, though one of his palms was severed by one of them. He used to enter the fenced area, call them by their pet names and feed the crocs. Zoos, however, most of them, are a vulgar display of man’s power over (or fear of?) nature.

The modern civilisation has taken the principle of ‘division of labour’ to the world beyond their occupations. They have divided the world into fine compartments. They have deforested the land and developed parks, created reservations for the aborigines, built cages for the animals, and created slums and ghettos for the fellow human beings.

It also signifies how the urbanites in the modern times are divorced and isolated from Mother Nature, even though she is the lifeline, source of sustenance for living beings and culture. The modern civilization, taking on entire view, presents a sick society. Their contact with nature, if any, like that with their religions, is only a periodical or occasional ritual.

Could the urbanites ever re-establish their kinship with nature in their daily life, within the built environment of cities? But this may not be a lucrative proposition in the capitalist economy? Providing a ‘safe corridor for the wildlife’, instead of zoos, through the cities could help the citizens to restore their physical, mental, spiritual and social health, without gating and ticketing. Does democracy matter?

The ‘Chidia Ghar’ – zoo – at Delhi charges Rs.10/- and 5/- for adults and children visitors respectively. In that price if they give a map of the zoo on a newsprint paper (free) along with each ticket, perhaps, the people can carry back home something as a reminder and wish to visit again. Besides they can decide and choose which part to visit. Then there is no need to draw and paint arrows on the road and guide the people like goats and sheep.

Remigius de Souza

Note: Image Tiger in zoo, Source: Internet
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©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

A Lesson for Life-time

A Lesson for life-time

My mother taught me by example on the ground, which I learnt by experience, ‘how to sustain without cash or currency in my pocket by honest labour in the soil'. That was sixty years ago. A lesson indeed for a life-time! But now I work for money with money, and abuse soil, which remains as a four letter word.


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Remigius de Souza
Post Mail: 69-243 S. B. Marg, Mumbai 400028, INDIA
My poetry homepage:

Friday, 9 November 2007

Indira’s Emergency Recalled – 2

Indira’s Emergency Recalled – 2

The Emergency (1975-77) imposed by India Gandhi made a mark of state terrorism, but with difference; it targeted the elite. It became a landmark of decadence. As I said before, it didn’t make even a ripple among the tribal and peasants, because they had/have nothing to loose. It, as usual, was born out of insecurity of those who held centralized power. However the seeds of terrorism have always been dormant in the pre-independence eras.

There have been other examples of state terrorism that targeted the people who protested the policies and practices, for example, the protest of the farmers against the compensation to be paid for land acquisition for the Thal-Vaishet project by the Government of Maharashtra when some farmers were shot dead. There are many more examples.

Indira’s Emergency also made a way for other forms of terrorism, widespread across the country in the following years, which continues till now. Terrorists’ attacks on public and private properties including one on the Parliament, the communal riots, and atrocities by the Naxalite, etc. are considered as criminal acts against the society at large. The glaring examples are the riots in Gujarat and the turmoil of peasants in Nandigram, which is burning on the eve of Divali - the festival of lights - in West Bengal, where one may question the role of the state. The tribal and the peasants are increasingly displaced from their homestead and/or are forced to commit suicides by the strong-arm of money-market-political powers.

All these acts of terrorism are initiated, managed and manipulated by the elite in high places. Their weapons as well as targets are ‘common’ people, or the second class citizens, who blindly fall for the incitement by those who hold power to create unrest and disrupt people, thereby the society at large.

But their real weapons that come handy are the widespread poverty, illiteracy, social-economic disparity and the lack of education in the fast changing environment. The root cause is the glaring lack of civic sense and hygiene – physical, mental and spiritual – at personal and collective levels, from the top to bottom – from princes/presidents/prime ministers to the paupers on a street. No occupation or profession or vocation or institution is an exception. To find an exception, we may have to search with microscope in the present fragmented and decadent global society.

At an individual level I neither can vouch for others nor for myself. While I was practicing as an architect planner I realized then, and later, how many holes I must have made in an ozone layer in my sphere! A sin, for example, committed in architecture (shelter?) and planning could be comparable to the mythical idea of Original Sin (see: Bible), which can never be absolved. The damage done to Life and to Mother Earth is permanent. Look at devastated Chernobyl!

Perhaps a simplistic answer to a question of civic sense and hygiene is to restore community, not communality; to restore plurality not dogmatic polarity; to restore holistic, not deductive, view of life; to restore leisure, not speedy pleasures; to restore universal education, not fragmented information; to recycle people’s time-tested wisdom, not graft compartmentalized expertise… You can go on adding to this litany: all issues address to civic sense and hygiene at local to global level. Industrialization has failed to supply quality to living is already proved beyond doubt.

Remigius de Souza

Remigius de Souza
Post Mail: 69-243 S. B. Marg, Mumbai 400028, INDIA
My poetry homepage:

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Indira’s Emergency Recalled

Indira’s (1975-1977) Emergency Recalled

Pakistan is going through the emergency I go into retrospection. Pakistan is a part of this subcontinent, and the entire subcontinent is going through volatile social, political, environmental, economic etc. crisis.

Architects of the Emergency (1975-77) – Indira Gandhi, her Opponents and the Opportunists – may, or may not, have foreseen and measured, then, its long-term effect on the Indian democracy and polity.

After the emergency all successive governments at the centre and some states became caretaker governments, by the political parties manipulating alliances in scramble for power.
In a tribute to the event I did some sketches, which I now dig out. My daily living had been hectic then, and I had been travelling for almost one-third of every year in struggle for survival. Many a times I visited interior areas.
The people in Mumbai were talking in hushed voice in public places during those days. The real estate prices nosedived. Grocery shops were displaying the prices and stocks of commodities on the boards in public view.
I have been visiting tribal areas and villages since 1960s, in and around Gujarat State, which also included the hills with dense forest that are now submerged in the infamous Sardar Sarovar Project, and from where thousands of tribal families are displaced. I noticed, the Emergency did not make even a ripple among the tribal.
The tribal have been perpetually living in a state of emergency for thousands of years. I recount two events from epic Mahabharat.
In one event, Dronacharya, the guru of Pandavas and Kauravas for military skills, demanded and took Eklavya’s thumb as his fees for being an absentee guru in archery. His descendants, the Bhil tribe in India, to this date, do not use their thumb in archery; it’s a living memorial.
Democratic India, of course, forbids the tribal to carry bows and arrows, being a weapon. The impotent imagination/creativity of the Agency could not turn archery as a sport for the tribal and treat them with dignity. Archery remains an exclusive domain of the elite, the Pandavas and Kauravas of modern India.
In another event, Arjun and Krishna were prospecting a suite for Pandava’s new capital. They selected Khandav-van, which was inhabited by the Nag tribe, close to present Delhi. (Nag were not snakes. Likewise, the Katkari tribe, near Mumbai, claim to be descendants of Hanuman and his clan, wh0 were called monkeys, in the Ramayana times.)
Arjun and Krishna put Khandav forest to fire and destroyed it together with the Nag people. One of them – Takshak – escaped. He took wow to destroy Pandava’s vansh – lineage, dynasty. King Parikshit, the last of Pandava’s, in fear of death lived in a foolproof, tight security. Takshak took to a form of “sookshmajiva” – minute life-form (or bacterium!), entered into an apple, which Parikshit ate; Takshak killed him from within. Will the history repeat?
The ruling elite minority, in whatever garbs, with power of money, military and knowledge, are playing horror in the lives of the tribal, the peasants and the poor of the minorities, in the name of development and progress (of money and economics). Have they learnt any lesson from the Emergency, and the Past or history that they glamorise with pride? But who will bell the cat?~~~~
Remigius de Souza (7-11-2007)

© Remigius de Souza. All Rights Reserved.