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Wild in the city

The disappearance of places you loved as a child hurts you as much as the disappearance of people you loved and cherished during your childhood
Last Updated : 14 May 2023, 21:19 IST
Last Updated : 14 May 2023, 21:19 IST

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The children of Madras way back in the 1960s had two places they loved to visit in the city: Marina Beach and the zoo. While we visited Marina Beach once in a full moon, the visit to Madras Zoo came only once in a blue moon. The Madras Zoo was then situated near Central Station, behind Nehru Stadium. What huge rain trees did the zoo have then? I still remember the order in which wild animals were kept in cages at Madras Zoo.

The cages were like compartments on a circus train. The first to greet us on entry, when we entered after purchasing our tickets, which cost 50 paisa, was a pair of Royal Bengal tigers in all their ferocious glory. Just past them were the majestic lion and his mate. With a mane of gold and eyes of fire, the best of beasts paced the cage regally. When he let out a series of roars, the ground beneath seemed to shake, and the sound echoed all over the zoo. I still cannot forget the sorrowful eyes of a chimpanzee as he stood holding the branch of a stunted tree stump in his cage, like an old prisoner sentenced to life. The one creature that stood out from the rest the skyscraper giraffe. What an imposing animal it was. He moved gracefully, like a crane on greased wheels.

A chain of cages housing birds stood separated from the carnivores. We could gaze at macaws with rainbow plumes from arm's length. Ducks were roaming freely, pestering visitors for titbits to eat. In modern zoos, animals are kept in large enclosures. While it is good for the animals, it is not possible for us to observe them at close quarters.

Apart from exhibits of wild animals, Madras Zoo had within its precincts a beautiful circular moat of lush green water, the surface of which was dotted with lilies and lotus. There were rowboats to take visitors around this moat.

Those days, when you travelled by train from Chennai Central Station, you could glimpse animals in the zoo from behind the train's window bars. Calls of tigers, roars of lions, and cries of caged birds seemed to welcome visitors to Madras (now Chennai), who arrived by train at Central Station.

Recently, I went to the Moore Market area. Nehru Stadium stands there as it did years ago, but there is no trace of Madras Zoo, the heartbeat of children in Madras five decades ago. The disappearance of places you loved as a child hurts you as much as the disappearance of people you loved and cherished during your childhood.

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Published 14 May 2023, 18:56 IST

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