Sharekhan had been caught a few days ago. He loved being called ‘the king of the jungle’. There were not many large animals left in the forest although he had heard that when one of his ancestors had roared the emerald forests would tremble and shake, shedding their leaves and that the smaller animals would run for cover. Times had changes and it was difficult to find a full meal these days, he had to migrate closer and closer to the villages where the human beings lived. Then one day as he was close to the edge he was trapped and caught and taken by cage on top of a vehicle. The journey was long as he saw the sunset and the moon and sunrise and again the moon stationery in its oblique splendor.
He had been taken to the ‘Mumbai’ zoo, the second largest in the country and was given the largest cage that wild cats had. ‘Wild cats’ what a name he said wryly. He had seen many stray cats roaming freely around the zoo trying to get morsels of food from the cages of the ‘big cats’ but they had another name ‘stray cats’. It irked him that ‘stray cats’ were free and he was not “Ah yes…… but they were hungry and he was not!” he told himself.
Then one day whilst he was waiting for his noon meal, the usual chunk of raw buffalo flesh, he saw that the zoo keeper had left his door unlocked .
“AH-ha” he thought “ now finally – release …..I can go free , but let me wait for my noon meal , I don’t want to leave this zoo cage with an empty stomach and am not sure how I will return home to the forest.”
Once he had been served his lunch the royal king of the jungle decided to nap as was his habit. It soon became evening and he saw the guard come and wink at him, as the guard passed by he noticed that the lock to sharekhans cage was open. He observed the glint in the lion’s eye.
“Oh ole chap and where will you go? once you leave the zoo you will only enter a concrete jungle. No getaway there .There is only one way out for people like you and that is straight up !………….” he said adjusting his little khaki cap on his bald pate , grinning, showing a small cluster of his red betel nut stained teeth and pointing a brown gnarled finger heavenward . Sharekhan roared at him and was livid at what the stupid guard had said to him. “ I shall be free tomorrow , I will be far away from that silly guard” Sharekhan thought as he nestled in the straw and fell into deep sleep.
Sharekhan tossed and turned that night he dreamt that he was running through the streets of the crowded city, he could hear the human beings chase him in those filthy smelly ‘four- tires’ that left a trail of black smoke and shoot their pistols at him. Then he suddenly heard a huge bang and he awoke startled. Someone had banged his door shut .
The guard passed him by and said “See Sharekhan you are better off where you are, once you give up your soul there is no spirit left in your body “
Sharekhan refused to open his eyes, he refused to eat for the next three days, it had slowly dawned on him that when he had the opportunity to escape he let go the chance because he really didn’t want to. The zoo managers were concerned for his life, they tried to douse him with vitamins and tonics they purged him and put the choicest meats in front of him. If Sharekhan died of starvation it would hit the headlines in the newspapers and they would be out of a job! . Sharekhan on the other hand had lost his will to live, his spirit was broken. It took him a while to reconcile that his life was in his own hands – he alone had been given the option to escape but he didn’t have the courage to face the consequences! When Sharekhan finally died several years later the news said ‘The longest living lion died in captivity ……in Mumbai zoo’.