Pets and Beyond

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

Featured image: from Kabbootar ja ja ja

8 thoughts on “Pets and Beyond

  1. I would never have guessed how many “creatures” made it to our films as guests, had it not been for your research here! Where animals are concerned, I remain Switzerland-like. I neither dislike nor like them. I’m afraid of some of them – like reptilia and mice. But having seen the Western hemisphere go crazy about pets while neglecting their children hasn’t enamored me of the animal species. The animals are hardly to blame for this state of affairs, but it irks, all the same.
    Thank you for this info-“rich” article. Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Atlantic, owns an island, I believe. A charismatic man and a good orator.
    Jeff Bezos runs an enviable empire. But what is strange to me is that most youngsters will give their arm and leg to work at Google, and Apple. Amazon is usually their last choice. I wonder what’s going on there!? When asked, I was told their ‘work ethics’ were not as good as the other companies.
    Stay writing. Stay inspired, Manek. You inspire many others each week.
    Stay blessed.

    1. Thanks Monica, your writing inspires too. Here and elsewhere, I offer you a salute _()_

      And while I forgot about Branson and his island, I had no clue about what kids feel about the work ethic at Amazon. We only see it as outsiders, of a company that offers everything you need, at a good price and without hassles. On time too.

      Still wondering who would order roaches though 🙂

  2. Sirji, It’s already raining cats and dogs all over, and you have unleashed more animals on us on a wet Sunday morning, not to speak of bugs and cockroaches. Remarkable essay again, making one wonder again how one can do such a deep research on anything under the sun and inside the Bollywood zoo.

    Personally, I am fond of neither cats nor dogs. They say cats are loyal to the houses they have stayed but not to the masters. In other words, if the master leaves the house, the cat will prefer to stay in the same house and lick the boots of the new master. Billi is Bewafa, but a Kutta is definitely not a Kameena, as they tend to loosely associate both in Bollywood abuses. Still I am wary about that incisive canine side-tooth and that hanging tounge and I keep a safe distance away, whether it is a noisy Pomeranian or a grumpy Bulldog. To make matters worse, there is an awe-inspiring and hostile-looking Alsation in the immediate next door, that drags its owner out on a leash daily morning in search of a good lamp-post (for itself, not for the owner). Being stronger than the owner, despite the man trying to restrain the leash with both hands, we the neighbours are in a perennial state of peril while passing by, pretending to be deaf to all that barking. I mean, you and I know that, ‘Barking dogs don’t bite’. But what’s the guarantee that all those barking dogs know the same proverb? Also there are some stray dogs too in the society neighbourhood which keep growling from a safe distance at our owner’s pride, probably out of envy. All in all, it has become a dog’s life for the rest of us in the society. Talking of dogs, I think in spite of the prime place for gaali dialogues, Bollywood has also given them due recognition in various films, especially in climax where it earns more applause than the hero. There was a film called ‘Teri Mehrbaniyan’ in which the lead role was played by a dog. I think the film also starred Jackie Shroff in a side role.

    Your reference of Chimpanzee in ‘Insaniyat’ brings fond memories of my childhood, as I vaguely remember that it was more talked about than the two matinee idols in the film. I love to watch chimpanzees. They are so human. Also elephants are adorable. I think it was not until ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’ that animals became A-Grade stars. All credit goes to Sandow Chinnappa Devar for bringing in all those elephants to co-star with Rajesh Khanna. I think those elephants further lifted up Kaka to his starry heights. But I think Devar went overboard with ‘Jaanwar Aur Insaan’. He could neither save the tiger nor the film. Then there was his ‘Gaai Aur Gori’ which was as tame as a cow in the box-office.
    Shatrughan Sinha made more animal-like sounds in the film.

    Great array of ‘pets and pests’ songs that you had gathered. If birds can be included, can we add ‘Masakali Masakali’ of ‘Delhi-6’? Btw What does this word mean?

    What a zoo of information you have unleashed on us, Oh My Dog! But No Thanks, Sir, I am not going to order cockroaches on Amazon. I find quite a handful of them, all ‘desi’ originals under my wash-basin sink, after I had kept locked the house for a few days. I can even gift away free that elusive little mouse that makes occasional guest appearance in the kitchen, if someone manages to catch it. Then there are those pigeons which have made a Sulabh Sauchalay out of my balcony. They seem to be pretty unapologetic about it. But my dream plan is to kidnap the neighbouring Alsation and sell it off in Amazon some day. How much can this Bezoz fellow pay me for a good fat Alsation, which can be the new owner’s pride, and ex-neighbour’s relief?

    1. S.V. Nathan ji – I’m laughing at your last paragraph! What an imagination you have! :). Wishing your Alsatian troubles calm down, if not go away!

    2. “…deep research on anything under the sun and inside the Bollywood zoo” That is a wow Nathan 🙂 Wonder where you get so much imagery from…but it’s fun 🙂 I did notice the Oh my Dog part too 🙂 🙂 🙂

  3. Ok, I had NO idea Amazon sold pet roaches that made a hissing sound and that people actually bought them! Because if there’s one creature that makes my hair bristle, its the cockroach ? I’m a pet lover for sure and we’ve had all kinds; dogs, cats, rabbits, hens, squirrels…what comes as a surprise are the snails, crabs, worms and lizards that people keep as pets. To each his own I guess.
    Interesting nuggets about Hindi films starring animals, especially Zippy the chimp and the astronomical sum that was paid for him! Buying islands and countries is the stuff of wealthy dreams that can be realised by the likes of Mr. Bezoz. But what an incredible notion!
    Anyhow, your piece rivets and reveals as always Manek and I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks for the weekly effort you put in, stay blessed. And do tell us when you order that extraordinary pet from Amazon! ?

    1. Madhur, I have seen squirrels in your garden, running up a tree, but didn’t know you had one for a pet too. Wonder how they behave as pets? They must be in a cage I guess…but then a large one, right? Squirrels have a long tail, so I ask. Unless the tail stays out of the bars 🙂

      And that pet, cockroach? Will buy it? Yuk…pest 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *