Elephant in the room

He’s deadly when he gnashes his teeth

Pak Zoo was carved out of Hind Zoo in 1947, when the imperialistic British zoo-owners got bored of toying with the inhabiting animals, and decided to abscond from animal parks all over the world. For the decade or so leading up to the British selling Hind Zoo, it was clear that the zoo’s ownership would be returned to the locals, but the dynamics of the final deal weren’t quite as unambiguous. After much deliberation and debate, the future of Hind Zoo hinged over the fate of one animal, an elephant named Malsi.

Malsi was born in Saudi Arabia, what seems like ages ago, and was brought to the subcontinent by Arab warriors, who used him to destroy any resistance that they faced in their long journey. Malsi encouraged their imperialistic cravings – among other fetishes – as he stampeded over anyone who denounced the Arabs or didn’t accept the elephant as the supreme authority. After reaching the subcontinent, Malsi first threatened to ‘Arabanise’ Hind, but when that didn’t materialise he found acquiescing followers who ended up creating a whole new zoo for Malsi.

Despite being bestial, perilous and ferocious, Malsi mustered a massive fan following after his arrival in the region. His fans were extremely loyal and made sure – some inadvertently, others intentionally – that Malsi was always depicted as a humble and peaceful creature, which in turn ensured that the aficionados grew in numbers. It was believed that Malsi wouldn’t get proper coverage in Hind because of the presence of other star animals, and hence a struggling lawyer named A M Hannij, taking inspiration from an incoherent poet Labqi, decided to give his own career a massive boost by leading the movement for a separate zoo where Malsi would hog the limelight. But bizarrely, following Pak Zoo’s creation, Hannij addressed the zoo’s management committee on August 11, 1947 announcing how everyone in Pak was free to follow any animal they wanted, much to the bemusement of the committee. 65 years down the line, Hannij’s summersault is still being debated as zoo commentators continue to mull over Pak Zoo’s raison d’etre.

Regardless of what the founding fathers intended, Malsi remains the star of the show in Pak Zoo. His dangerous self is preserved under the pretentious shroud of tranquility as he continues to live in a gargantuan room, designed exclusively to cater to his needs, with other inhabitants being sidelined in crammed cages. Malsi is as popular as ever, and is the centre of just about everything associated with Pak. Throughout the past 65 years or so Malsi has been forced into matters that have got nothing to do with him, and as a result Pak Zoo is taking a nosedive into crisis upon crisis with the Malsi obsession precipitously accelerating. And as the obsession escalates, what no one is realising is that there is no bigger predicament facing Pak than Malsi – the reason behind the zoo’s inception.

From Pak Zoo’s Subjective Solution in 1949 to 1973’s Zoo License Act, Malsi has always been thrust upon the way the zoo would be governed. When you keep a precarious monster, nourish it, make it the be-all end-all of your foundation and then pretend that it’s passive and tranquil, you’re obviously laying the groundwork for eventually being eaten up by the beast. And that is precisely what Malsi has been doing, as we turn a blind eye to the elephant in the room.

Pak Zoo has become a haunted place, with inexplicable occurrences becoming a norm in Malsi’s room. There are mysterious killings, murders, rapes, incidents of violence and bloodshed all over the place, and all in the room belonging to Malsi – the animal of peace. In October last year, Alalam, a 15-year-old school girl was attacked; the previous year a politician named Namlas Reesat was hunted down; the same year, Pak’s representative for other animals, Zabhahs, was killed, and these are just a few high profile cases among incidents of brutality that occur every single day in the zoo. And despite all evidence pointing towards Malsi as the culprit – who would readily accept the blame if anyone bothered checking– the zoo authorities find someone else to point fingers at and ignore the elephant in the room.

Another mindboggling reality about Malsi’s viciousness is that he doesn’t even spare his own followers. The thing is, Malsi’s followers are divided into a plethora of groups and every one of them takes Malsi’s help to butcher the rest. And so, Malsi has helped cement the discriminatory lines that were drawn by the Arabs to distinguish themselves from the rest, and has created hostile divides among its own followers as well. One can gauge the loyalty of Malsi’s followers by the fact that despite being pulverised by the elephant they refuse to abandon their allegiance to Malsi. Perhaps it’s more of a case of loyalty towards your own group, in some cases, more so than any diehard faithfulness with regards to the elephant, which has seen the powerful sects massacre the rest through Malsi.

The Malsi apologists are an interesting creed as well, who despite being vociferous flag-bearers of the elephant’s superiority, never actually pay him a visit. Nevertheless they claim that they know more about Malsi, than those who interact with him on a daily basis. The apologists tow the “animal of peace” line, and conjure nonsensical counter-explanations every time Malsi does someone in. These apologists are a funny lot, they raucously condemn Malsi’ victims and extol the elephant at the same time. They highlight Hannij’s August 11 speech to claim that Pak wasn’t created for Malsi and ignore the lawyer’s speeches over the preceding decade. They assert that everyone should be allowed to follow the animals of their choice, and forget that if that were the case Malsi would never have reached their zoo in the first place. The apologists paint a beautiful picture whenever Malsi smiles, and close their eyes when he gnashes his teeth.

Pak has been feeding and grooming the elephant for 65 years, and in turn paying heavily for the ensuing destruction. The zoo has paid no regard to the animals that have inhabited it for centuries, and has completely destroyed its cultural essence to accommodate a foreign species. It is obvious that Pak can no longer carry Malsi’s weight; it is obvious that Pak can no longer afford being obliterated from the core; it is obvious that Pak can no longer bear Malsi’s violent antics; it is obvious that Pak cannot continue to ignore the elephant in the room; and it is extremely obvious that for Pak Zoo to live on, Malsi must depart.

The writer is a financial journalist and a cultural critic. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @khuldune



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