It was a pretty spontaneous plan.
Peanut had just finished her Initial Grade Piano Exam, and it had gone pretty well ( from whatever I could hear, straining my ears outside the room). The exam was at 12 noon on a Monday, which was a pretty weird choice given that it meant that several kids would have had to miss school that day. Anyway, since she was at home, I thought it would be a good idea to take the kids to see the Zoo - I figured they would get a kick out of it. Besides, on a Monday afternoon, I thought it would be less crowded. The twins were home by 1 p.m. and all the kids were very excited when I announced that we were going.
The last time that we had gone to the Zoo was several years ago, when Peanut was only about 2. My sister and I had taken her, and we had had a very enjoyable time. My sister was at work this time, though, so I called up my mother and asked if she would care to join us. She agreed and so we decided to meet at the Zoo. So I piled the kids into the car along with young Menka who is standing in for young Rinki these days, and off we went. My sister, possibly feeling left out of the whole deal, made a snarky remark on Whatsapp to me and my mother ''Wow. This is really something. First Time Ever the Circus Goes to the Zoo.''
We reached before Mother Dear, and I bought the tickets. The twins started causing chaos right at the ticket counter by climbing the steel bars that separated the lines of people, and generally getting in everyone's way. I think they thought they had already reached the zoo, because at one point, Papad peeped out from between the steel bars and said 'Mama. Yeh Jail hai?'
'Cage.' I corrected him hastily. 'And that's inside. With the animals. We're just waiting for Didu.'
It felt like an inordinately long wait since Pickle and Papad were now in full form and they were darting here and there, climbing the tables that have been placed outside the ticketing area, chasing the crows and squirrels and getting excited that they were seeing so many animals already. Peanut waited more sedately with me while Menka got increasingly confused about which twin to watch, since they tend to run in opposite directions. I was thinking about how much I miss the enthusiastic Rinki and hope that she does come back. However, I told myself, we are lucky to have quiet little Menka. At least we're plodding along.
I spotted a Japanese Lady with long hair, wearing a cap and sunglasses, and carrying a large bag spilling over with its content, and of course, the necessary fancy camera. I smirked and was suddenly jolted out of it by Peanut exclaiming 'Didu' and running towards the Japanese lady. Oh. That was my mother. Of course. Same thing.
All the kids ran over to their grandmother, reaching her approximately at the same time and almost knocking her over with their collective enthusiasm. We could now actually go into the zoo. How exciting! We went in, with the twins throwing only a minor tantrum about having to pass through the metal detector thingy.
There's a bit of a walk to where the animal enclosures start, and Pickle and Papad decided it would be more fun to run it. We watched them benignly until we noticed that there were some vehicles on the road as well. Herding them to the pavement, we walked along. It was a very pleasant wintry afternoon and I was happy to note that indeed there wasn't as much of a crowd as the last time that we had gone.
The Delhi Zoo is very large and I had already decided that we would rent a vehicle to get from one place to another because of the several pairs of little feet involved. However, the 8 seater was already booked up. The next one due was a 14 seater, and even though it involved an outlay of 600 bucks, I thought it would be worth it, especially when I visualized three adults staggering under the weight of three children, since we would eventually end up carrying them.
As we waited for our 14-seater to arrive, we overheard a family of Sardars asking for a vehicle and being refused. In a friendly gesture, I offered to them that they could join us on our 14 seater. They agreed with alacrity and handed over 300 bucks to me. They were two couples, one little kid and an infant, and so we would fit in perfectly - we waited for our vehicle. As it arrived, we climbed in with perfect cordiality - our tribe occupying the front of the vehicle, theirs the back. And we were off!
The first stop that our nice, soft-spoken driver took us to was the deer enclosure. We all piled out, me convincing Papad that the Lollipop that he had found in Didu's bag wasn't as important as the sight we were about to see. The kids watched the spotted deer, awestruck by the proximity. I think they were just glad - as was I - that the deer were not in a cage but a fairly large green area. I wanted to capture the moment and took pictures of each of my kids in succession as they watched the deer. There was this little squeaky kind of noise emanating from somewhere nearby but I was too lost in the moment to give it much attention. Only a few minutes later when everybody had had their fill of the deer and were ready to go back to the vehicle, did I notice the squeaking had gotten louder.
'Didi! Pair hataiye na...Didi!'
Oh deer, I mean dear. I realized only then that I had been standing all this while on poor little Menka's foot. Had it been Rinki, there would have been shouting loud enough to frighten all the deer more than an impending lion attack, but little timid Menka could only manage the ineffectual squeaks of protest. Feeling like a clumsy and thoughtless oaf, I removed my Puma-clad-foot from on top of Menka's tiny slipper-ed one and murmured an apology along with 'Why didn't you say something earlier?' We headed back to our 14-seater, the Sardar family and ours.
We next saw the Rhino, which the children were quite awed by. The next hour was a whirlwind - we had our vehicle for an hour and wanted to cover as many things as possible, so there really wasn't going to be time to linger, which I had been aware of - as it is, while the children would be charmed at first, they would soon start to get more interested in the thought of their next snack. We therefore covered the giraffes; the fox, the hyena and jackal; breezed through some incredibly pretty birds; caught the somnolent hippos, crocodile and alligator; of course, the majestic elephants. Naturally, the felines were the most exciting, with the leopard, the lion and a really vocal White Tiger who put up quite a show, roaring away in the most heart-rending manner.
The kids were very excited, and we had to consistently remind them that attempting to climb over the railings wasn't the smartest idea. The Sardar family were thankfully on the same plane as us in terms of which animal sighting to prioritize and how much time to spend where, so it was all fairly smooth. As we left, the strategically placed Sovenir shop caught the attention of my kids, and we therefore were forced to buy some overly priced and fairly crappy things to round off the experience. But overall, I thought it was totally worth it.
Now, the big downer -and there was only one, but it was a big one. I don't know why I didn't really notice it the previous time, but this time round it was so much clearer. The infrastructure at the Zoo strikes me as fairly good, and the animals seem to broadly be in okay shape; but the way the visitors behave is absolutely appalling. I would call it animal-like, but that would really be doing the animals a big injustice.
On so many occasions, right in front of big signs that requested Do Not Tease the Animals, there were people teasing the animals. They would call out to them, make funny noises and - to my chagrin - even throw things at them. I would have perhaps understood to an extent if this behaviour was limited to little kids who might be excused for not knowing better; but no, it was grown men and sometimes women. It was as if they were all there saying 'What the hell! I've paid my forty bucks and I want entertainment, dammit.' So they were intent upon making the animals ''do'' something for the sake of that entertainment, to get their money's worth out of the whole thing. It was really depressing. Especially when we saw a particularly charming fellow throw his empty bottle of Pepsi into the pond with the Hippos, succeeding in arousing their curiosity and then taking a picture of them with his mobile phone as they followed the bottle around slowly.
My mom told me to take a picture of the guy and report him - which we eventually did not end up doing because the kids were getting super cranky about getting out once our hour was up - as predicted. It irked me later so much that I put up a post on my Facebook page about it - but still left me feeling most dissatisfied. An animal-loving friend who is usually quite vocal about these things asked whether I had told the guy it was wrong to do what he did, and could even put the animals in danger. I told her I hadn't because I rarely get confrontational when I'm out with the kids. Judging by the number of such incidents we witnessed (and the number of empty cold drink bottles we spotted in some enclosures) the behavior is really widespread. My friend pointed out that it was at least good that I was raising awareness on Facebook about how such behaviour is wrong - but I wasn't too convinced about that. At least, my assumption was that most of the people reading my post on my page wouldn't be the sort to behave this way. At least, I would hope so.
My friend also said that she's against the concept of Zoos altogether. I don't think I've thought about it that hard before - but I think purely because of the way the animals are treated by rest of us, it may be a better idea to just leave them alone. Even the company we had by way of the Sardar family turned out to be the callous variety, judging by how one guy reacted when the Leopard was squirted with water, and startled into coming into full view for our benefit. ''Bhaiiya, phir se paani chhiddakna!'' He called. My mother turned away in disgust and walked off, back to the vehicle that we would now share less willingly with them. I followed more slowly, feeling more depressed than before.
So the fact is -while altogether the kids had a really lovely time - I don't think I'll be taking them back again to the Delhi Zoo anytime in a big hurry. A safari somewhere nearby will be just as good even if it means we don't actually get to see half as many animals.
In the meantime, if you do go to the Delhi Zoo - be prepared for the one variety of animal that is truly uncouth - the average mobile-phone-camera-and-cold-drink-bottle-wielding-visitor-to-the-Delhi-zoo.