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Zoo without Bars

Kenneth is an ex-serviceman from Grand Rapids, Michigan

Have you ever owned a monkey?  Do you know what it feels like to ride an elephant?  Ever see a snake-charmer?  No?  Well, all these experiences and many more could and probably would happen to you if you spent a few months in India.  This strange and interesting country is full of queer and interesting animals.  One does not have to wander thru the dark, steamy forests to see India’s wild life population.  Nor does one have to visit a zoo.  The whole countryside is a zoo—a zoo without bars.

Join me, and we’ll take an imaginary trip through different sections of India.

We’ll start our trip in the city of Calcutta.  We’ll pretend we landed at the local airport last nite, slept in a local hotel in town and are just beginning our first day in Calcutta.

This is really a modern town you exclaim.  Look at all the streetcars, busses and trucks.  And look at that nice park across the street.

Say!  What’s that?  Isn’t that one of those sacred cows?  Sure enough!  There it stands, right in the middle of the street, paying no attention whatever to the traffic passing by.

After a couple of days sacred cattle are no longer a novelty.  Neither are the big black water buffalo with the huge horns.  We’ve seen a lot of them plodding patiently through the modern traffic, pulling two-wheeled carts loaded with different articles.  They are guided by a rope which passes through their nostrils.

We never will forget the sight of that big sacred bull ambling slowly through the market place, occasionally upsetting a basket of fruit or eggs as the natives smile tolerantly at his clumsiness.

The snake charmers also were very interesting.  Remember how they sat cross-legged in front of a basket containing a live cobra?  They would play a shrill tune on their flutes and both charmer and snake would sway slowly from side to side in time to the music; their faces only a few inches apart.  That’s one job we can do without.

Remember the men with the trained monkeys?  How they were dressed—Mama monkey in a red dress, Papa in a baggy pants; and wasn’t Junior cute when he danced as Papa beat on a little rawhide drum and Mama shook a tambourine?  Mama passed the money cup too.

Then there were the parrots and lovebirds that one could buy for almost nothing.  And the unbelievable sight of live crows sitting in the meat market, gazing longingly at the fly-covered cuts of meat lying uncovered on the shelves.

We’ll never forget either the hawks who would swoop down out of nowhere and steal food right out of our mess-kit on that last army post.  We soon learned to crouch over our food as we passed through the chow line.  It was fun to tie a piece of meat to each end of a long string and toss it into the air.  Swoosh! and a hawk would dive for it.  The other piece would be dangling below him and soon another hawk would have that.  There would be quite a tussle in the air and we never tired of this trick.

Then there were the huge vultures circling high in the air.  Sometimes we would see them devouring the carcass of a dead cow or goat.  Once we even saw one sitting on the bloated body of a cow as it floated slowly down the river.  A wingspan of from 10 to 12 feet was not uncommon for these scavenger birds.

Have you forgotten what an experience your first elephant ride was like?  How the huge beast knelt at a word from its driver and the horrible feeling as it lurched to its feet?  Down the road we went—lurch, jerk, bump, roll and bob—quite a sensation, wasn’t it?  Clinging madly to our seat we were lowered very un-gently to the ground.

The nights—we’ll never forget the nights!  The hair-raising howls of the jackals practically on the doorstep of our hut, or the crashing through the brush of a wild boar, the incessant slapping at mosquitoes, and the unearthly cries of some unidentified animal.

Then, of course, there were the dancing bears in every small town, surrounded by a crowd of curious children.

Yes, indeed, India certainly is a zoo without bars.  In the large cities, in the small towns, out in the wilds, wherever one went there were animals.

Some of the lumber yards in the northern part of the country used elephants to shove and pull huge logs into place.  In the western part of the country camels were a common sight.  Crocodiles inhabited quite a few of the rivers, and tigers, although not everywhere, were not an uncommon beast.

Interesting though our visit was we were nevertheless glad to board our ship and head out to sea toward the good old U. S. A.

Now we visit a zoo in some of our large cities and as we gaze upon the animals pacing uneasily back and forth in their cages, we think of those days when we paced uneasily back and forth as we stood guard at night and strange animals gazed at us through the darkness; perhaps they thought as they watched us the same things that we think when we watch them.