The Indian Express: The Elephant in the Room


The Elephant in the Room

Worry not if someone equates you with animals. Here’s why you should wear it as a badge of honour.

Written by Arefa Tehsin and Adityavikram More | New Delhi | 
BJP President Amit Shah, animal based abuses, Prime Minister Narendra Modi , political rally, animal-related abuses, demeaning khet-khaliyaan, metaphors, eye indian expressOur culture has an arsenal of animal-related abuses, demeaning them. It should be the other way round.

In a mega political rally, addressing all mitrons in his animated speech, the BJP President Amit Shah equated members of opposition parties with animals — snakes, mongooses, bitches, dogs and cats (saanp, nevla, kutti, kutta aur billi) — that have joined forces to fight the elections. Rahul Gandhi bit back the sound byte by saying that Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are the only two non-animals in this country. Huzoor, hold your horses. We should not be the ones taking offence or trying to teach manners. What we need to do here is to apologise big time… to the animals!

“Stop behaving like an animal!” you may hear a mad as a hornet parent saying to a child grinning from ear to ear or “Those were our good old days, bhaisa’ab,’ you may see an old uncleji frowning. “Ab to jungle raaj hai. The country is going to the dogs, hai ke nahi?”

Our literatures, languages, cultures and psyches have an arsenal of animal-related abuses and demeaning metaphors , while it should be the other way round. Biodiversity on plant earth is facing the sixth age of extinction after the dinosaurs, due to unprecedented destruction of nature; the single biggest factor for that is human activity. So who are the asses? Surely, not the loveable donkeys who have been bearing our burdens for centuries.

“Basanti…” warns an irate Dharmendra, “in kutton ke samne mat naachna!” Kuttey has had a special place in Dharam Paaji’s vocabulary of angst, which reflects what a common gaali it is in the Indian society. We are talking about an animal who has been the most loyal to humankind. We’ve turned it into the most common abuse. If someone says you are a son of a bitch, be happy. The bitch is sure to be caring and won’t abandon your little sister in a dustbin. Let them badger you, even though badgers don’t badger. They are not your mausis trying to hook you up with Bediji’s polite son. They are shy animals and become fierce only to defend themselves and their young.

The vultures may circle, but they are not warmongers. Arrey bhai, warmongers are generally the politicians, no? War is a human invention. The comedian George Carlin had quipped, “How is it possible to have a civil war?” Yes, vultures in India sure have fought a war — for their own survival. And almost lost. They would probably talk about humans circling them.

Leaders on both sides of the ideological divide have called each other animals time and again. In 1958, the Cuban government called Che Guevara a “communist rat.” In 1890, the unionist John Fleming displayed this sign during a march in Melbourne — “Feed on our flesh and blood, you capitalist hyenas: it is your funeral feast”. Rodents are social animals who look out for each other. And well, talking about vultures and hyenas, we have always kind of looked down upon the cleaners. Not to mention how we treat human cleaners, the backbone of our so called civilised, functioning societies. We have known grandaunts turn batty if we as much as brush our fingers with cleaners while passing them our own crap!

Bats do not turn batty, by the way. They help us immensely by keeping insect populations in check and pollinating plants. If that is battiness, boss, we need more of it. When we call anyone chicken, we should cast one glance at a rooster with a crown on his head, upright back and sweeping, haughty strides. Before you get the wrong impression that he is a bully, just look at our khet-khaliyaan to find out who bullies the bull.

Since we are speaking with a forked tongue, let’s talk about a reptile insulted by us for ages, across continents. We stand united in our hate for snakes. We believe they are evil and treacherous, whether they are in the grass or in our aasteen (sleeves). One look at them and we lose our nuts and run away screaming. Javed Akhtar ruminates, “Voh saanp chod de dasna ye main bhi kehta hoon/ Magar na chodenge log usko gar na phunkara.”

Snakes’ contribution to humankind by controlling populations of destructive, disease-spreading rats and maintaining our ecosystems is too weighty to put down on paper. We worship them on Naagpanchami and kill them on sight for the rest of the year, especially if they turn up in our gardens or homes. Our homes that we have built on their homes, perfect vaastu style.

Ah, and as soon as there is something unruly and violent we shake our heads and say, “Yaar, it’s the law of the jungle!” Jim Corbett had got ants in his pants hearing this time and again. So he wrote, “Had the Creator made the same law for man as He has made for the jungle folk, there would be no wars, for the strong in man would have the same consideration for the weak, as is the established law of the jungles.”

So call us a sly fox, and yes, we would rather be a playful fox; call us a worm, and yes, we would rather churn earth to make it fertile; call us an ugly toad, but please, don’t kiss us; call us a leech and yo, we would pride ourselves in sucking the blood we need and then falling off you unlike the human suckers who never have their fill; call us a whale or hippo or an elephant and we would be happy about being one of nature’s majestic heavyweights; call us a loudmouth and we’d chirp away to glory; say “enough of your monkey business” and we’ll go our jaunty way; say “Dukkar, chup kar!” and we won’t flinch from being clean and intelligent pigs. Phew! In the list of abuses, animals do have a lion’s share. The only animal we won’t name in Bharatvarsh right now is You-Know-Who. After all, we have too much at steak.

Arefa Tehsin is a writer and environmentalist. Adityavikram More is an entrepreneur, nature lover and photographer, currently based in Sri Lanka.

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