“The whole thing is based on a misunderstanding of biology,” said Pan, perched on a pile of hay in the elephant paddock. “Two by two, my furry ass.”

Birdy paused in her meditative chewing, and said, “A true observation, dear troglodyte.”

“You can joke,” said Pan, and reached out a hand to steady himself as the ship rolled again. “Chimpanzees are not monogamous. Here I am, stuck with a female who trembles when I look in her direction. It’s too much work.”

“True of many relationships,” said Birdy, almost inaudibly. She cast a glance at her mate, the vast and belligerent Greylag, tramping back and forth irritably at the other end of their paddock.

“It’s made everyone a little tense, this endless pitching and rolling,” said Birdy. 

“Tense!” said Pan. “But listen. What do you think?”

Birdy dutifully thought, chewing. 

“Why not?” she said. “It can’t make things any worse.”

I think …” began a Labrador who was sitting next to Birdy’s ponderous foot, but he stopped when the elephant tapped him on the head with the tip of her trunk. “Sorry, little fellow. Domesticateds do not have a voice in this discussion.”

“Good,” murmured the cat sitting by Birdy’s other foot, stretching back a hindpaw for an interlude of Intimate Cleaning.

The lions, predictably, were not enthusiastic. 

“Stupid idea,” said Baph. “It won’t work,” said Huph. “Not only that, we’ll get the fucking blame.”

There was a deep clearing of the throat from the enclosure opposite, and Huph looked over and said, “And them. Big cats, always being blamed, whoever actually did it.”

“Indeed. On the other hand,” said Grarg, the tiger who had made the noise, “We are no big fan of Old Beard.”

“Yes, yes,” squeaked a weasel, hopping about in excitement in the alley. “Hate Beard. Hate him!”

“Shut up, weasel,” roared the others simultaneously, and the little animal slunk back to her pen to sulk about being bullied all the time.

Pan could see where the work lay. “Respected Lions, Tigers, and also Leopards, and Jaguars,” he said, looking down the cages at all the other large felids who might need to be reassured. “Snow Leopards, and Catamounts, allow me to explain a little better.” 

He loped back and forth, keeping to the middle of the alley out of the shafts of sunlight streaming in from the ports high above their heads. It made him uncomfortable to feel the glowing eyes following his every movement. He presented his arguments. Going by the past, he said, millenia of oppression lay ahead. Old Beard and the rest were rotten enough, and who knew about those that would come? An opportunity like this would never arise again, he said. And so on and so forth. 

And once Baph and Huph were convinced, he knew the thing was won.

On a morning not many days after that, they felt a grinding and a juddering as the ship began to settle. Pan let himself out of his cage and went around, making sure everyone was prepared. Most of the animals had no role to play, of course, but he did not want anyone squeaking or howling at the wrong moment. 

And when the four women came in with their buckets and barrows, chatting to each other, it seemed to be just an ordinary day on the first deck. If they had been more sensitive creatures, more attuned to hidden currents, the women might have marked a tension in the air, a wariness in the way the animals regarded them. 

In front of the elephant paddock, two of the women stopped to call out to Greylag and Birdy, who strolled out, ears flapping. When the women were preoccupied, hoisting bales of hay, the elephants reached out with their trunks.  They lifted the women up by the feet and swung them high into the air and then back, knocking their heads together with just enough force. It was done so swiftly the women had barely time to gasp. 

The elephants gently lay the two bodies on the deck, side by side. 

Birdy looked down Old Beard’s wife, at the blank eyes and slack features. She felt it strange that this sorry creature could have exerted such a hold on them for so long.

Birdy began an agitated trumpeting, and Greylag joined in.  Presently the other two women came running and saw their companions lying there. They kneeled before the bodies, shaking them and shouting, then to their surprise found themselves suddenly swinging through the air upside down.

Pan had been watching from the end of the alley. He trotted over to unlock the paddock gate. Birdy pressed her foot down gently on each of the women’s heads, and  then she and Pan went over to the the big cat cages. 

As soon as he had opened the lions’ door, Pan sprang onto Birdy’s back, for one could not be certain with lions. 

Baph and Huph yawned and stretched. 

Baph said, “Time to go see Old Beard and the sons,” and the two padded off towards the doors.


Photo by Frank Cone on Pexels.com

The Civets

You hear the song of darkness
And come pattering forth
Clambering down branches
To run along the roof,
Sniffing at the strangeness in the air.

A rustling and a crackling
Dry leaves under velvet paws
A sudden shrill complaint
From the shadow of a shadow on the wall.

If I could see through glowing eyes
Your world, crisp in the moonlight
Going about the night’s work,
Noting, momentarily, the unaccustomed quiet.
Oblivious of the other world,
Our broken world,
Heaving on the other side of dawn.





One Pleistocene Morning

Smilodon populator

Fearsome sabertooth of old

By ancient ungulata

Was disliked, we are told.


“It’s a nuisance and a pity

“We must be impaled upon these fangs,

“Every time this awful kitty

“Is beset by hunger pangs.”


“Are you referring to theethe teef?”

Thaid Thmilodon, feigning thurprithe,

“They’re harmleth! Decorative, really!

“Don’t be mithled by their thithe.”



It was raining

Rain pattered down on a brachiosaur
Who was peacefully chewing a tree. 
She squinted an eye up at the thunder
And thought, this time it better not be me. 

Beneath her a little crowd had gathered
At different points of evolution
Some had grown paws and some brilliant feathers
And some perfected binary fission.

The river roared full and cycads fell over
Volcanos spluttered and boomed
And the critters squabbled and chattered and munched
Not caring they were soon to be doomed.

A clean new day dawned and the herd lumbered forth
Seeking horizons of mystery
That they are all gone, while we fester on
Is the saddest mistake of prehistory.


Pointosaur relishing a sudden shower.


A Day in Court

He begins with an image. Say, of a bird sitting behind a desk. A very large bird, an imposing desk, facing a room. The room was a courtroom. There was a buzz of conversation. 

All of a sudden the bird – he noticed, a vulture, a Gyps himalayensis to be exact – rose and  unfurled its enormous wings. The sound was a snap and whoosh, a dusty blanket shaken in the wind. The chatter came to an abrupt halt. 

The Gyps turned its long neck, this way, that way, and bottomless eyes found his face. Sitting as he was in the far corner, by himself. 

It opened its cavernous beak, and there was a grating roar as it said:

It’s three o’ clock in the afternoon.

“It’s – it is three o’ clock in the afternoon, your vult- er – your Honour,” he replied. 

The Gyps looked at him for a long moment. It turned to the room and said:


A group of small and medium birds at the other end of the courtroom began to sing:

“It’s three-o’-clock in the aft-er-noon

The ther-mals are high and strong

They bear the scent of the fresh-ly dead

Whose bones be-long to-us – all.”


Court in session. Present the case, said the Gyps.

Below, a colourful reptile cleared its throat.

“Docket number 1,123 (A). Cattaparthy versus Jarkub.”

“Jacob. It’s Jacob,” he said without thinking, eliciting a roar of Silence! from the Gyps.

Read the charges! it said.

The defen-daaant is charged with attempted theft of property of the plaintiff, under Section 421 (A) of the Indian Penal Code,” drawled the reptile.

He was on his feet. “Theft! Attempted! It’s a mistake! Your Honour! Mr. Catter – Mr Cattaparthy!” he bawled, while the plaintiff glowered at him, tail flicking.

The courtroom exploded in excitement.

Silence! Sit DOWN! shouted the Gyps, flapping mightily, and there was quiet.

Mr. Jarkub, it said. Are you cognisant of the penalty for repeated interruption of court proceedings?

“No, your honour,” he said, shaking.

Good. What is your plea? it said. 

“Not guilty.”

Present the evidence, said the Gyps. 

A lithe animal, some sort of weasel, he thought, rose to its feet next to the plaintiff.

“Your honour,” it said, “In lieu of arguments, we will present video evidence, it being exceptionally clear.”

A large screen flickered to life to the right of the judge’s bench. At the top, 02:02:04 appeared in blocky script. There was a crisp blue image of a wall, with what appeared to be a small brass plaque set in it. The numbers counted up and a second passed. Another second. From the right, a man staggered into the frame, back to the camera. 

The man looked sideways briefly, and swayed towards the wall. Thirty seconds passed as he looked downwards, fidgeting, and then the assembled watchers heard a long sigh as a pool appeared between the man’s feet. 

The courtroom murmured. 

A ball of fluff exploded onto the screen from the left, knocking the man off balance. Ball and man collapsed to the ground, and confused shouting and yowling could be heard. The video went dark.

“Your honour,” said the weasel, “The Court has seen irrefutable evidence that the defendant attempted property theft by over-marking the clearly marked territory of the plaintiff, Mr. Cattaparthy.”

More murmuring in the courtroom.

“Aforesaid theft being prevented only by the direct and courageous intervention of the plaintiff. Will your honour please review evidence that the property has been continuously marked by the plaintiff for fifteen years?” said the weasel, approaching the bench with a sheaf of papers.

After a few minutes, the Gyps turned its dark eyes towards him. 

Do you have anything to say, Mr Jarkub?.

“Sir! Your honour! Not guilty! Mistake!” he shouted. 

Mr. Jarkub, the Court will make it very simple. Do you deny that the person in the video is you?

“No, your honour.”

The Court finds Jarkub guilty as charged. Silence! said the Gyps, as the chattering began again.

Proceeding to sentencing, it said, squinting down at something on the desk. 

Ten thousand rupees to be paid to the plaintiff, or else dismemberment. 

What is your choice? said the Gyps, and he could hear a note of hope in its voice. 

“I – I’ll pay, your honour.”

And thus ended his day in court. 





In tribute to the anti-alarm clock, devised by K-man and yours truly.

A (partial) feline vocabulary


Two weeks of sporadic research
And n=1
But n is also =
My very expressive Son.

Who enunciates ‘M’s and rolls his ‘R’s
And is proficient in A and Ow
But will not utter, not being a mutter,
The common canine Bow.


Regular Sounds Yowl sounds
Ah Aaow
Errrr Ahhaggow
Iweaw Maaauw
Maa Mgwow
Maaw Moe-uuw 
Mah Muggow 
Moowaw Murrow
Mowaw Ow
Mrrwaah Ow-ow
Nyow  Rraaowh
Rrrrnyow Ugwow
Uwkg Wgeaow
Waaw Yuggow

The Volunteer

Corbett Business

Something pungent in the wind
And the wail of the one who circles overhead.
Sprays of purple flowers
Frame the heavy footsteps
Raising dust up in the shafts between the trees.

And at dusk, a chorus warns you
That something is on the move.

Eagle business, tiger business
Spider business, babbler business
And the dark and furtive business
Of the watcher on the hill.

And when, far far from here,
There is a hole that cannot be filled
You think about their business
And the world begins again.


Corbett Business.jpg
Dhikala Business



There are always more in January, said the old man.

What, dada? I said, crouching low as I watched one lazily circling the boat, its yellow eye never moving from mine. A cold, cold mind, I thought, lies on the other side of that eye.

What dada? I repeated.

My uncle said: Muggers. There are always more in January. Do you know why?

I threw the left oar into the bottom of the boat, and raised the other at an angle, gripping it steady in both hands, metal spike pointing out and down. The best way not to lose an oar, if one was obliged to strike. I shuffled slowly in a circle, facing the croc, matching its arc around us.

The yellow eye blinked once, and the animal sank, leaving not a ripple on the surface of the water.

It’s revenge, he said.

Revenge? For what? For the floods? They should be grateful, I laughed.

From when it was built, he said gesturing with his chin towards the collosus that loomed over the open ocean.

I looked at it, the impassive expression on the giant head. Patel Statue? I asked. What, a hundred years ago?

Seventy, said my uncle with a tinge of irritation.

Yes, seventy, I said. That’s right.

Your father was working for the Efdy then. They had to move 500 muggers because of it, my uncle said.

He told me they had to do it that January. The same year it was built, he said.

Why? Mr Patel didn’t like crocodiles? I asked.

Must have been something like that, said my uncle. I don’t remember.

If Mr Patel didn’t like crocodiles, I am a fan of Mr Patel, I remarked, with my eye on another grey shape that had bobbed up ten feet from the boat.


“I object in the strongest possible terms to this deeply prejudiced characterisation of my descendants.” Mugger, Chennai Crocodile Bank


This vignette is inspired by recent news.



The Pilgrims

When I sleep, I am warm beneath
A blanket made of birds.

Slave-birds, sadly, chattel
Who never felt air ruffle their wings
And did not doze on mountain lakes
Or graze on summer grass
And could not hear the call
When the ice came creeping in.

But high above, look
Pilgrims in long straggling skeins
Span the sky and fill our ears
Urging us, landbound and forlorn
Leap, migrate, join the ecstatic exodus
And leave your worn skins behind.



Greylag Geese with goose down intact, Okhla Bird Sanctuary, Jan 2019



What is an animal?
If not a mouse?

What is neat nose and iris
Fluff, sinew and daggers?

And without Which (asserts my bookshelf)
A House is just a House?

What keeps a ear on Things
With whiskers probing the current?
And with anxious glower
Tail on standby, greets
Strange trampings in the hallway?

And after morning Ablutions
What tears around in glee?
Skidding and yowling to celebrate
The sudden refreshing life-affirming
Reduction in catly weight?

The culprit, passed out toasting in front of the heater (pencil sketch with egregious post-processing)