When some species multiplies beyond its sustainable population, predators kill or devour the excess.
Every living being has a role in the environment, assigned to it by Mother Nature. Termites convert wood back into clay. Earth worms digest the clay, making it nutrient-rich. Frogs, snakes and mice check the excess of insects and other rodents. Likewise kites, crows and vultures, dogs and cats, ants, spiders and lizards, even owls and bats have a place in the life cycle. Cockroaches, too, help keep sewerage pipes clear.
When some species multiplies beyond its sustainable population, predators kill or devour the excess. So, pangolins eat the invasive termites. If you look above the horizon you will find hundreds of kites gliding in circles looking for any dead animals. They descend to feast on any decaying corpses that ferment, and hence stop it from spreading its foul smell and causing epidemics.
In the morgue of Lahore’s veterinary hospital, along the banks of the River Ravi, numerous purple-coloured vultures once competed with stray dogs. Crows too would join in for their legitimate share. In old houses in the Walled City, and even in newer localities, snakes occasionally show up. They are mostly not poisonous but they devour the excess mice and rats and opt for the escape route when encountered.
Flora and fauna go together, they say. Large-scale cutting of trees in and around Lahore has sent native birds into exile. Our interference with the balance of nature results in outbreaks of different kinds of epidemics from time to time, including the present coronavirus.
Now, a few words about my favourite pet. It so happened that in the lowest drawer of my writing desk, I found a very small white egg. Then one day only its outer shell was left ruptured and a very tiny dinosaur timidly looked up at me and hid itself behind my books. The other creature was a spider that had stretched its net under the sink in my bathroom. I allowed it to stay put because many a mosquito gets entangled in the trap enabling me to sleep without fear of dengue fever.
One fine morning, when I was about to shave, I saw the newly hatched lizard pounce upon the spider to eat it. It got entangled in the web, because it had miscalculated its jump and the insect managed a narrow escape. The spider jubilantly danced and harped on the strings of the musical instrument of its own making. I got so engrossed in the theatrics of the tiny gladiators that my shaving cream lather dried out. As the lizard struggled to disentangle itself it got ever more helpless. For many days I watched this strange wrestling match for free.
On the fifth day, I was really impressed by its ability to survive without food. So, I did what a boxing or wrestling match umpire would do — I intervened and declared it a chivalrous, equally contested match, a draw. I twisted the spider’s nest with a match-stick. As a result, it got disentangled. Once released, the lizard ran and hid itself beneath the socks lying under my bed. Its innocent expression displayed its gratitude for the help I had extended in its great escape.
People may forsake those who helped them in their hour of need, but animals won’t, says Major Nadir H Wankadia, a PRO at Ferozsons outlet in the Ghulam Rasool Buildings, whose dome was mysteriously felled recently.
It may be recalled that Wankadia was a regular visitor to the Lahore Zoo, and when a lion escaped, he persuaded the cat to return. It was more like a repeat run of Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion. The animal obliged by walking back into its den.
The lizard thereafter started living between the gaps of variously inclined books in my shelf. While I was reading or writing, it stood guard against any moths gathering around the bulb and ensured that I was un-perturbed. It would devour the non-compliant ones. I also took fancy to it and christened it Billoo. In the summers, it would grow lean and weak, but with the advent of monsoons, when too many moths appeared, it could afford to be selective in choosing its prey. It would relish on only the best moths. Whenever I returned late after a ‘happy hour’, it would stare and scowl at me because it had gone hungry in the dark premises while the moths had gone to another house where other lizards banqueted with their own Valentines.
Once I noticed this, I started leaving the bulb lit in my study whenever I ventured on my late night excursions. By the time I returned, it had ensured a peaceful night’s sleep for me by having devoured all the mischievous moths. It grew bigger and fat because, like alligators, lizards grow in length all their lives.
One night I noticed its tail missing. It must have been attacked by some bigger specie. A lizard sheds its tail when attacked. The predator is thus distracted looking at the constantly shaking detached tail and the intended target manages its escape.
Monsoons were soon over, yet one more spell of summer heat was left. Dust-raising winds heralded the advent of winters. Billoo’s ecological role was now finished. Clasping the roof and walls, he constantly gazed at me. Lizards do not have eyelids to bat. At the height of wintery cold, instead of hiding in some warm place it clung against the roof and kept looking at me reverently. The moths had already disappeared. I, out of curiosity, pricked it with a long stick. It fell down. This time it did not hide under my socks. It had expired since long, while still on duty.
Picking it with a pair of tongs I threw it out of the window. Our neighbours’ organic rooster came running and swallowed it in a single gulp. When they slaughtered it, the stew of it was so delicious that they adopted another organic chick.
There was more of the unfinished agenda for Billoo. The following day, as I pulled open the drawer of my writing table, yet another tiny white egg was lying there. And under the table, over the glue in the container, there was a clear impression of a lizard’s foot. I managed to decode the Da Vinci Code. It was a passing note of gratitude left by Billoo. It had assigned its offshoot to look after me during the following monsoons: Nay par e parwana sozad!
The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of the NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]