Each year, Forbes Magazine brings out a list of the richest people of the world. Earlier this year, in January, it named Jeff Bezos of Amazon as the world’s richest man with a net worth of 78 billion US Dollars. A billion is a thousand million, which is an awful lot of money. The person has to be doing many things right to create such fabulous wealth.
Amazon’s philosophy is to efficiently sell us anything that answers a need as long as it’s legal. That includes marketing whatever you have seen anywhere, but even really odd things that you may not have imagined, such as LED chopsticks to help you see the Chinese food you’re eating, or live cockroaches for pets. The latter are shiny little creatures called Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, which make a cute sh sound when they are poked or in the mood. You can buy one for about 9$, but for a couple of dollars more, Amazon will send you a sexed pair instead, so you can breed a colony of roaches. One wonders who buys such creepy crawlies, but you’ll be surprised how many of them are sold. We cannot order them in India yet, but who wants to buy them here anyway? We have so many; if animal rights activists allow it, we will even be able to sell these creatures, lacquered and all, on Amazon.
Cockroaches can be pets in the classical sense, but definitions of pets blur. In many people’s view, pets are animals which are brought out of their natural habitat, tamed and looked after by an owner who expects recreation or protection in return. The question of commerce doesn’t enter this equation. Cows, bulls, and goats are used for milking or farming so they are not considered pets. Horses neither, since they are used for transportation or racing. Elephants, bears, lions and monkeys are used for performing tricks in circuses or by solo operators, so they are not considered as pets too. Hamsters and Guinea Pigs are laboratory animals, so they too don’t get the nod. Poultry is used for eggs or for consumption, so the pet question doesn’t arise. Camels are made to race by the Arabs and are also beasts of burden, like yaks, donkeys and llamas, so they are also denied the platform of pets. Also Falcons, so popularly owned on the sands of Arabia, are almost exclusively used for hunting.
But then, importantly, it’s also what you want from the animal you own that determines if it’s a pet or not. If, for instance, a horse is owned only for pleasure—to ride on just for fun, rather than to check what’s up on the ranch for instance—then it can become a pet. Hamsters are fun to play with, and in just that role they become pets. Several people in the west have a chimp as a pet too, when it entertains in a non-commercial environment.
Among the common animals, it’s cats and dogs that lead as the most popular pets worldwide, followed in no particular order by rabbits, parrots, mynas, turtles, fish, frogs, snails, crabs, ducks, goldfish and lovebirds. While some people keep other creatures as pets, which most of us treat as pests, like worms, lizards and snakes.
Hindi cinema has had so much fun with such creatures too, even some wild ones like elephants and lions. For an early example, the mind goes to V Shantaram’s Shakuntala (1943)—which he remade as Stree in 1961—on the story of a beautiful hermit maiden named Shakuntala who lives in the woods. A royal, Raja Dushyant, who is out for hunting, sees her and soon both of them are in love with each other. They get married secretly and soon he needs to go back to his kingdom, with a promise that he will return. Once in the palace, selective amnesia takes charge of the king, so he doesn’t recall who she is. But she is already pregnant and presently she delivers a baby boy, who grows up in the jungle in the comfortable company of a pride of lions. In these happy times, the boy even asks a lion to open his mouth so he can count the animal’s teeth. Now this would suggest that the lion is the boy’s pet, right? But by classical definitions, that is still not so. The lion could have been a pet if he had been brought out of his natural habitat and domesticated in a human home. Here in fact, it’s the boy who is not in his natural environment, so this becomes a case of peaceful coexistence, with no pet in the narrative.
Five years after the 1943-made Shakuntala was released, it was sent to the USA to become the first Indian film to be commercially screened there. A few years later, the Americans returned the favour by sending us their first actor, even if it was an animal. The chimpanzee named Zippy arrived to star in the film Insaniyat (1955). Zippy was already a celebrity in American films and television, and in Insaniyat he was given plenty of screen space. Not just that, filmmaker Vasan spent 55,000 US Dollars on the animal, more than he paid any one of the film’s leading human stars, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Bina Rai. Insaniyat was the only film in which Dev and Dilip acted together, but bearing in mind the above facts, we also need to consider that it was this landmark film in which both Dev and Dilip were upstaged by Zippy the Chimp.
At this point, a mention must be made of an animal that is a rarity in terms of ownership for protection. That honour goes to a mongoose in the film Kohinoor (1960), the animal’s protective nature highlighted at the end of the song Madhuban mein Radhika naache re, when the mongoose lashes out to destroy a snake let loose to kill his owner, Dilip Kumar. I owe a debt of gratitude to my film-crazy friend Bobby Sing, the author of the book “Did You Know”, to reacquaint me with this fact.
Pets, pests or neither, here are some songs that featured a diverse range of creatures on our screen:
- Jeevan ki nao na dole (Lioness and cubs/Shakuntala, 1943)
- Raja beta bada hoke jaayega school (Chimpanzee/Insaniyat, 1955)
- Ghaayal hiraniya main ban-ban doloon (Tiger/Munimji, 1955)
- Chhun chhun karti aayi chidiya (Bear/Ab Dilli Door Nahin, 1957)
- Kaune rang mungwa (Oxen/Heera Moti, 1959)
- Alhad jawaan mera jaage (Bull/Amar Shaheed, 1960)
- Salaam-e-hasrat qubool kar lo (Birds/Babar, 1960)
- Ae baby, ae ji, idhar aao (Dog, cockatoo, horse, ducks, rabbit/Love In Simla, 1960)
- Murghe ne jhootth bola (Cock, goat, monkey/Manmauji, 1960)
- Angna mein suraj muskaaya (Lions/Stree, 1961)
- Mera bandar chala hai sasural (Monkey/Zindagi Aur Khwab, 1961)
- Meow meow meri sakhi (Cat/Pooja Ke Phool, 1964)
- Pyaar ki manzil mast safar (Elephant/Ziddi, 1964)
- Dil aye dil teri manzil (Parrot/Laadla, 1966)
- Chal chal chal mere saathi (Elephants/Haathi Mere Saathi, 1971)
- Aaj main jawaan ho gayi hoon (Parrot/Main Sundar Hoon, 1971)
- Main jahaan chala jaoon bahaar chali aaye (Elephant/Banphool, 1972)
- Dheere se jaana khatiyan mein (Bedbugs/Chhupa Rustom, 1973)
- O kaali re kaali re (Goat/Minoo, 1977)
- Kabootar ja ja ja (Pigeons/Maine Pyaar Kiya, 1989)
- Dhiktaana tiktaana dhikhtaana (Dog/Hum Aapke Hain Koun, 1994)
The island of Madagascar has the most amazing bio-diversity of any country on earth. In fact, 90% of the country’s wildlife cannot be found in any place on this planet. With his current wealth at 96 billion, ie about 10 times the GDP of that country, one wonders if Mr Bezoz is tempted by the idea of buying the whole place off. This wouldn’t be the first time an individual has bought an island. Marlon Brando bought Tetiaroa island in 1965. It would be the first time someone tried buying a country.
Originally published in DNA Jaipur on page 15, on 15 July 2018 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-07-15
Featured image: from Kabbootar ja ja ja