* THE ADVENTURES OF WAIWAI *
Standing under the pleasant February morning sun, Waiwai wearing his school uniform kept shuffling his shoulders, to both weigh his bag and hear it make noise. For today his bag did not carry books, but biscuits, chips and other assorted snacks that Ma had packed for him, and few other eatables that Daadu had sneaked in.
Waiwai, today was heading to the zoo – a day out arranged by the school. Boarding the bus amidst shrieks and excitement from his other friends, Waiwai kept moving his lips, making gestures and smiling to himself in imagination of how he would behave in the zoo. As soon as he sat in the bus, he quickly opened his bag, and looked inside anxiously only to come to peace when he touched upon his glasses.
As the bus halted near a large cast iron gate, Waiwai got up and ran out in excitement, only to be instructed to stand in a queue. Waiwai waited impatiently, he glanced to his left, across the shoulder of the girl who stood in front of him, as the teacher read out the rules of the day. “At home, there is Papa and Ma, and here, teachers!”, sighed Waiwai, as he imitated silently what the teacher recited and all of a sudden unable to control his excitement, exclaimed, “Look Giraffe!”
The response was met with a huge laughter from the others who stood in front as the teacher passed a stern look towards him. As the crowd cleared out in front, Waiwai realised that the giraffe was standing still, right in the middle of the open plaza, barricaded by iron bars with everyone gathering around to take pictures. Waiwai, half smiled and looked with slight embarrassment at the girl in front, who was still giggling.
Waiwai wanted to get off the queue but followed the ‘Go Here’ sign like the rest and kept turning back at the giraffe only to notice a few other animal cut- outs that were hung over the roof of the ticket counter. Large noises and claps suddenly broke Waiwai’s silence as the school gang had a view of the first set of animals – the birds. Waiwai escaped the line and nibbled ahead, to see colourful birds flying around. Some feeding on grains, some perched on branches, as others around hooted in various sounds to catch attention. Waiwai was mesmerized at the display.
He rolled his eyes, shifted from one enclosure to the other, and broke his silence and shouted, “A sparrow!” pointing his finger above the cage. Everyone turned and then turned back again towards the cage, as Waiwai raised his head and kept following the flight of the bird.
“We look like ants”, giggled Waiwai as they continued in a line along the path marked by directions, bullet points of what to do and what not to, benches coloured in green, passing through cages hosting rabbit, hare and other small animals and even boards that stated what the upcoming animal would be.
As they walked Waiwai, went up to the penguin and said, “Are you from Madagascar? Eat this packet” as he dropped it through a hole made on its stomach, and then quickly added, “Have a biscuit also! I do not like orange flavour!” and continued being an ant.
Waiwai, once again revealed his elation, reaching the next destination, as he shouted, “Hello, King Louie!” as he waved vigorously at the monkeys who, to Waiwai’s great pleasure waved back. Waiwai, then looked around suspiciously, moved a few paces away, looked around again, and then slowly rounded up his arms, displayed his teeth and imitated the chimpanzee in front. The chimpanzee, ran towards the cage, climbed up and shook it with great fervour, and Waiwai now unaware of the surrounding mirrored him and said, “I feel like King Louie!” enthusiastically. Waiwai’s day had reached its peak as he now had spring in his step. He jumped around as he passed the deer, crossed over the little bridge while quacking at the ducks, turned around in circles like the peacock, and even rested his head along the railing and pretended to sleep like the crocodile that rested below. The only place Waiwai did not halt, is when the school neared the giraffe.
The last destination before lunch whom Waiwai had come to battle was was ‘Sherkhan’. He was the first one to reach, and announced, “Mowgli, is here!”, only to realize that Sherkhan was wandering around aimlessly inside. The tiger did not growl, only the people around did, as they threw at him little food particles, rubble and even mocked the tiger. The tiger did not respond and finally just lazed on the grass. Waiwai, looked astonishingly and in disappointment said, “This is not Sherkhan!” as he quietly walked back and sat on the bench placed under the tree. He took off his bag, opened it and put his hand for food, only to once again touch upon his glasses. As the rest of the schoolmates gathered for lunch, Waiwai, wore his glasses, stood up on the bench, and took a glancing look at the zoo. This time he did not just see animals, but actions of people, the colours, objects and boards at display, and even the back of giraffe that he witnessed at the entrance. Waiwai, stood with his arms on his hips, laughed and clapped in admiration. From there on, till the way back to bus, Waiwai kept his glasses on. He noticed every path, every little bridge, the benches, the barks, the fence, the art on the wall, and even the caged animals that were arranged.
Waiwai, finally spoke when he reached back home and now imitating the orangutan walked in, dropped his bag, flung his shoes and then swung himself on top of Daadu, and hugged him. “Why are you behaving like a monkey?” asked Ma from a distance to which Waiwai quickly answered, “Because the monkey in the zoo was behaving like a monkey” scratching himself under his armpits. Ma ignored, but Daadu prodded, “A monkey will behave like a monkey isn’t it?”
“No, Daadu, I think, they were not real animals, they were all trying to pretend like an animal. I think they were imitating!”, Waiwai insisted.‘What makes you say so, Waiwai” an eager Daadu questioned.
“You remember Jungle Book! There, the animals were free; they were doing what they wanted to do. Here Daadu, everyone was doing what we wanted them to do! Sherkhan did not even try to scare us, he was just standing so that everyone could see him. How is that possible, Daadu? People react to animals isn’t it...? Like how they show in television when they go to a jungle! Here, the animals were reacting to everyone around! The animals did whatever we asked them to do. They were following orders” Waiwai declared.
“What did you do?”, asked Daadu curiously. “Just what the others did, Daadu!”, replied Waiwai and quickly turned out to see where Ma was and whispered, “I made faces and teased the monkeys!” Daadu, brushed Waiwai’s hair and asked, “So were people imitating people, because they knew they were not real?” Waiwai pondered for a bit and said, “I think Daadu, people were imitating because they knew that the zoo was imitating a jungle!” Ma suddenly turned back leaving her work and sighed. Daadu looked towards Ma and passed a smile. Waiwai unbuttoning himself, held Daadu’s face turned towards him and said, “The entire day felt like a fancy dress show at school! ” Daadu and Ma both giggle at the same time.
Ignoring the laugh, Waiwai continued, “You know like how I was dressed as Gabbar Singh for the school annual day, similarly in the zoo everything there was dressed up to look like a jungle. The bench that I sat upon and even the branches where the birds perched were made to look like tree barks. The waterbody in which the ducks swam were painted blue, the little bridge which we crossed to feel like a stream had plants in pots underneath it, and even the ticket counter and the eating place was painted with faces of animals. All the fences, cages, light posts, and roofs were also coloured green. Daadu, everywhere we went the zoo was dressed up and wearing a large costume to appear like a jungle.
There was one place that read, "Don’t walk on the lawn". And Daadu, while the zoo was decorated, there was even an Uncle who wore a dress like Shikari Shambhu, as if it was a real jungle!”, Waiwai laughed and quickly added “They even had a giraffe at the entrance. I thought it was real! ” and hid under him, Daadu.
Daadu patted him on the back, as Waiwai continued digging his head onto Daadu’s lap. “Because the zoo was celebrating fancy dress day, the animals were also participating and so the people were whistling, clapping, cheering, taking photos like how everyone did when each of us entered on the stage at school. Like in that fancy dress event at school, Gandhiji got the biggest applause and everyone took individual photographs with him, here they did the same with the lion. Who stood and scraped his paws against large walls that had leaves, trees and rocks coloured over it! And just like Gabbar Singh, not many cheered for the bison, Daadu!”
“Now go wash yourself; and come eat something! Did you eat the orange biscuits?” Ma raised her voice. Waiwai quickly sprung up, climbed across Daadu, jumped onto the floor , dropped his pants and to avoid answering, sang loudly, swaying his backside left and right, “ Jungle Jungle baat chali hai pata chala hai, Are Chaddi Pehen Ke phool khila hai phool khila hai….. !” and disappeared into his room.