The magical childhood with the adorable monsters
As the daughter of a forest officer, she had many privileges. For starters, she had a zoo. Yes, she literally had a zoo as my playground!
My father used to be a zoo director at Padmaja Naidu Himayalan Zoological Park. He loved that place with all my heart. It might be a childhood dream, but I think we had the best house in Darjeeling. From the French windows of my parents’ room, we could see the entire Kunchenjunga range. From my room, which my sister and I used to share, we could see the garden with its beds of bright red poppies in spring and summer on one side and a jungle, which probably only had jackals, on the other. Although I knew from the start that I would have to leave this magical place, my own Narnia, one day, that didn’t stop me from being friends with the various animals that lived there. And of course I also had my favorites.
The zoo campus was my strength. I inspected it every day, stopping to admire the beauty of the clean, green surroundings brought to life by the song of exotic birds and the roar of Siberian tigers. Every day, the zoo keepers and guards told me stories and events that happened at the zoo. Trust me, it felt exactly like being in the fairy tale of Narnia. Only these animals did not speak English.
My favorite anecdote was one in which the leopard broke a visitor’s umbrella. Some tourists got excited after seeing the leopard. But they were soon disappointed when he didn’t act the way a carnivore is supposed to. I guess they expected it to grow and inflict fear on passersby. So they pushed him with an umbrella until the leopard got angry and snatched the umbrella from him and broke it. After that incident, Achilles (mispronounced Ac-chilis by the zookeeper) became my favorite leopard.
I also enjoyed playing with the fluffy looking snow leopard. Whenever I was near his cage, he used to mimic my movements. If I ran, he ran. If I walked, he walked. Sometimes he used to hide and look at me out of the corner of his eye and then he would surprise me by suddenly jumping out of his hiding place. Sometimes, under supervision, I even stroke the back of his furry ear. I could tell he really enjoyed it from his throaty purrs.
I loved how he had found secret hiding places in the zoo. On every holiday, if we weren’t on a family getaway, I would walk to the Siberian tiger enclosure, which was at the other end of the zoo. And although they weren’t very friendly, I enjoyed looking at them. He was also very jealous of the fact that they had a nice cave where they could nap.
I didn’t like the family of deer and mountain goats very much because they spent all their time eating. However, I made a friend. A little mountain goat named Pooja Bhatt. I named the goat this because she had a nice fringe that the popular actress wore. However, I’m not sure if the goat was even a female. But I loved feeding him grass and he definitely had a big appetite.
As I said, there were many advantages to being the daughter of a zoo director. One of them was able to play and care for the cute and defenseless puppies that grow up to be majestic yet fearsome creatures.
The tiger and leopard cubs were extremely cute. If you kept a stuffed toy next to them, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart until the real one moved. It’s funny how everyone is so afraid of these carnivores. Every time a puppy was born, we excitedly waited for it to grow up and play with us. Unfortunately, the pups abandoned by their mothers did not fare very well despite all the warmth and feeding we tried to give them to simulate the care they would have received from their mother. It was heartbreaking to see them die. When you looked at the puppies scared and trembling with their wide-eyed innocence, you forgot that when they grew up, they could kill you with a casual movement of their paw in your face.
But if I had to pick a favorite, it would definitely be the cubs, Sunny and Mani. I don’t remember how they ended up staying in the guard room outside the house when they were first brought to the zoo at barely a month old, but I do remember them biting at the bottom of the wooden door with their moderately sharp teeth.
I wouldn’t say we had the best garden, but we had some pretty poppies, petunias, and fuchsias, among others. However, it took just half an hour for these adorable but destructive pair of pups to ruin our gardeners’ hard work. But how could we be angry? These cuddle-worthy pups never let us get mad at them for being so lively and fun.
My memories of my time at PNHZP have faded a bit over the years. But what I still remember and will never forget is that I had only friends and no enemies. I had a good day every day. I was in Darjeeling a while ago and decided to visit the zoo. The place looks much grander now. But sadly, it’s not my Narnia anymore. I saw Sunny again. He is now old and, of course, he did not remember me. But that doesn’t matter because I have the best memories of him and they will always stay with me.