Ravi?”Ravi nodded vigorously. “Piscine?”I nodded

Ravi?”Ravi nodded vigorously.
“Piscine?”I nodded even more vigorously.
He kept his eyes on me.
I nodded so hard I’m surprised my neck didn’t snap andmy head fall to the floor.

I would like to say in my own defence that though I mayhave anthropomorphized the animals till they spoke fluentEnglish, the pheasants complaining in uppity British accents oftheir tea being cold and the baboons planning their bankrobbery getaway in

the flat, menacing tones of Americangangsters, the fancy was always conscious. I quite deliberatelydressed wild animals in tame costumes of my imagination. But Inever deluded myself as to the real nature of my playmates.

My poking nose had more sense than that. I don’t knowwhere Father got the idea that his youngest son was itching tostep into a cage with a ferocious carnivore. But

wherever thestrange worry came from – and Father was a worrier – hewas clearly determined to rid himself of it that very morning.

“I found a good book about archery.” Sam frowned. “Doing it is harder than reading about it, though. I get blisters.”

“Keep at it. We may need your bow on the Wall if the Others turn up some dark night.”

“Oh, I hope not.”

More guards stood outside the king’s solar. “No arms are allowed in His Grace’s presence, my lord,” their serjeant said. “I’ll need that sword. Your knives as well.” It would do no good to protest, Jon knew. He handed them his weaponry.

Within the solar the air was warm. Lady Melisandre was seated near the fire, her ruby glimmering against the pale skin of her throat. Ygritte had been kissed by fire; the red

priestess was fire, and her hair was blood and flame. Stannis stood behind the rough-hewn table where the Old Bear had once been wont to sit and take his meals. Covering the table was a large map of the north, painted on a ragged piece of hide.

 

A tallow candle

weighed down one

end of it, a steel g

auntlet the other.

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patriarch, a lanky, hulking beast of 550 pounds,

patriarch, a lanky, hulking beast of 550 pounds,had been detained. As soon as we stepped in, he loped up tothe bars of his cage and set off a full-throated snarl, ears

 

flatagainst his skull and round eyes fixed on Babu. The soundwas so loud and fierce it seemed to shake the whole cathouse. My knees started quaking. I got close to

 

Father seemed to pause and steadyhimself. Only Babu was indifferent

to the outburst and to thesearing stare that bored into him like a drill. He had a testedtrust in iron bars. Mahisha started

pacing to and fro againstthe limits

of his cage.
Father turned to us. “What animal is this?” he bellowedabove Mahisha’s

snarling.
“It’s a tiger,” Ravi and I answered in unison, obedientlypointing out the blindingly obvious.

“Are tigers dangerous?””Yes, Father, tigers are dangerous.””Tigers are very dangerous,” Father shouted. “I want you

tounderstand that you are never – under any circumstances –to touch a tiger, to pet

a tiger, to put your hands through thebars of a cage, even to get close to a cage. Is that clear?

Nothing, thought Jon Snow, the same as me.

Halfway up the winding steps, he came upon Samwell Tarly, headed down. “Are you coming from the king?” Jon asked him.

“Maester Aemon sent me with a letter.”

“I see.” Some lords trusted their maesters to read their letters and convey the contents, but Stannis insisted on breaking the seals himself. “How did Stannis take it?”

“Not happily, by his face.” Sam dropped his voice to a whisper. “I am not supposed to speak of it.”

“Then don’t.” Jon wondered which of his father’s bannermen had refused King Stannis homage this time. He was quick enough to spread the word when Karhold

declared for him. 

How are you and

your longbow

getting on?”

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We set out like prisoners off to their execution.

We set out like prisoners off to their execution.
We left the house, went through the gate, entered the zoo.
It was early and the zoo hadn’t opened yet to the public.

 

Animal keepers and groundskeepers were going about theirwork. I noticed Sitaram, who oversaw the orang-utans, myfavourite keeper. He paused to watch us go by. We passedbirds, bears, apes, monkeys, ungulates, the terrarium house, therhinos, the

elephants, the giraffes.
We came to the big cats, our tigers, lions and leopards.

Babu, their keeper, was waiting for us. We went round anddown the path, and he unlocked the door to the cat house,which was at the centre of a moated island. We

entered. Itwas a vast and dim cement cavern, circular in shape, warmand humid, and smelling of cat urine. All around were greatbig cages divided up. by thick, green, iron

bars. A yellowishlight filtered down from the skylights. Through the cage exitswe could see the vegetation of the surrounding island, floodedwith sunlight. The cages were empty – save one: Mahisha, ourBengal tiger

Above the King’s Tower the great golden battle standard of House Baratheon cracked like a whip from the roof where Jon Snow had prowled with bow in hand not long ago,

slaying Thenns and free folk beside Satin and Deaf Dick Follard. Two queen’s men stood shivering on the steps, their hands tucked up into their armpits and their spears

leaning against the door. “Those cloth gloves will never serve,” Jon told them. “See Bowen Marsh on the morrow, and he’ll give you each a pair of leather gloves lined with fur.”

“We will, m’lord, and thank you,” said the older guard.

“That’s if our bloody hands aren’t froze off,” the younger added, his breath a pale mist. “I used to

 

think that it got

cold up in the

Dornish Marches.

What did I know?”

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The cruelty is often more active and direct. The

The cruelty is often more active and direct. The literaturecontains reports on the many torments inflicted upon zooanimals: a shoebill dying of shock

after having its beaksmashed with a hammer; a moose stag losing its beard,

alongwith a strip of flesh the size of an index finger, to a visitor’sknife (this same moose was poisoned six months later); amonkey’s arm broken after reaching out for proffered nuts; adeer’s antlers attacked with a hacksaw; a

zebra stabbed with asword; and other assaults on other animals, with walking sticks,umbrellas, hairpins, knitting needles, scissors and whatnot, oftenwith an aim to taking an eye out or to injuring sexual parts.

Animals are also poisoned. And there are indecencies evenmore bizarre: onanists breaking a sweat on monkeys, ponies,birds; a religious freak who cut a snake’s head off; a derangedman who took to urinating in an elk’s mouth.
At Pondicherry we were relatively fortunate. We were sparedthe sadists who plied European and American zoos.

Nonetheless, our golden agouti vanished, stolen by someonewho ate it, Father suspected. Various birds – pheasants,peacocks, macaws – lost feathers to people greedy for theirbeauty. We caught a man with a knife climbing into

the penfor mouse deer; he said he was going to punish evil Ravana(who in the Ramayana took the form of a deer when hekidnapped Sita, Rama’s consort). Another man was nabbed inthe process of

Stannis Baratheon was proving to be a prickly guest, and a restless one. He had ridden down the kingsroad almost as far as Queenscrown, prowled through the empty hovels of Mole’s Town, inspected the ruined forts at

Queensgate and Oakenshield. Each night he walked atop the Wall with Lady Melisandre, and during the days he visited the stockades, picking captives out

for the red woman to question. He does not like to be balked. This would not be a pleasant morning, Jon feared.

From the armory came a clatter of shields and swords, as the latest lot of boys and raw recruits armed themselves. He could hear the voice of Iron Emmett

telling them to be quick about it. Cotter Pyke had not been pleased to lose him, but the young ranger had a gift for training men. He loves to fight,

and he’ll

teach his boys

to love it too.

Or so he hoped.

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stealing a cobra. He was a snake charmerwhose

stealing a cobra. He was a snake charmerwhose own snake had died. Both were saved: the cobra froma life of servitude and bad music, and the man from apossible death bite. We had to deal on occasion with stonethrowers,

who found the animals too placid and wanted areaction. And we had the lady whose sari was caught by alion. She spun like a yo-yo, choosing mortal

embarrassmentover mortal end. The thing was, it wasn’t even an accident.
She had leaned over, thrust her hand in the cage and wavedthe end of her sari in the lion’s face, with what intent wenever figured out. She was not injured;

there were manyfascinated men who came to her assistance. Her flusteredexplanation to Father was, “Whoever heard of a lion eating acotton

sari? I thought lions were carnivores.” Our worsttroublemakers were the visitors who gave food to the animals.

Despite our vigilance, Dr. Atal, the zoo veterinarian, co

uld tellby the number of animals with digestive disturbances which hadbeen the busy days at the zoo. He called “tidbit-itis” the casesof enteritis or gastritis due to too many carbohydrates,especially sugar. Sometimes we wished

people had stuck tosweets. People have a notion that animals can eat anythingwithout the least consequence to their health. Not so. One ofour

sloth bears became seriously ill with severe hemorrhagicenteritis after being given fish that had gone putrid by , a manwho was convinced he was doing a good deed.

Jon’s cloak hung on a peg by the door, his sword belt on another. He donned them both and made his way to the armory. The rug where Ghost slept was

empty, he saw. Two guardsmen stood inside the doors, clad in black cloaks and iron halfhelms, spears in their hands. “Will m’lord be wanting a tail?” asked Garse.

“I think I can find the King’s Tower by myself.” Jon hated having guards trailing after him everywhere he went. It made him feel

 

like a mother

duck leadinga

procession

of ducklings.

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I’ll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get

I’ll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in mycraw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must allpass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played withdoubt, so must we. If Christ spent an

 

We commonly say in the trade that the most dangerousanimal in a zoo is Man. In a general way we mean how ourspecies’ excessive predatoriness has made the entire planet ourprey. More specifically, we have in mind the people who

feedfishhooks to the otters, razors to the bears, apples with smallnails in them to the elephants and hardware variations on thetheme: ballpoint pens, paper clips, safety pins, rubber bands,combs, coffee spoons, horseshoes, pieces of broken glass, rings,brooches and other jewellery (and not just cheap

plasticbangles: gold wedding bands, too), drinking straws, plasticcutlery, ping-pong balls, tennis balls and so on. The obituary ofzoo animals that have died from being fed foreign bodies wouldinclude gorillas, bison, storks, rheas,

ostriches, seals, sea lions,big cats, bears, camels, elephants, monkeys, and most everyvariety of deer, ruminant and songbird. Among

zookeepers,Goliath’s death is famous; he was a bull elephant seal, a greatbig venerable beast of two tons, star of his European zoo,loved by all visitors. He died of internal bleeding after someonefed him a broken beer bottle.

Outside his bedchamber a flight of steps descended to a larger room furnished with a scarred pinewood table and a dozen oak-and-leather chairs. With Stannis in the King’s Tower and the Lord Commander’s Tower burned to a

shell, Jon had established himself in Donal Noye’s modest rooms behind the armory. In time, no doubt, he would need larger quarters, but for the moment these would serve whilst he accustomed himself to command.

The grant that the king had presented him for signature was on the table beneath a silver drinking cup that had once been Donal Noye’s. The one-

armed smith had left few personal effects: the cup, six pennies and a copper star, a niello brooch with a broken clasp, a musty brocade doublet that bore the stag of Storm’s End. His treasures were his tools, and the swords and

knives he made. His life was at the forge. Jon moved the cup aside and read the parchment once again. If I put my seal to this, I will forever be remembered as the lord commander who gave

 

away the Wall,

he thought,

but if I

should refuse …

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Mr. Kumar looked up and saw me. He smiled and,

Mr. Kumar looked up and saw me. He smiled and, onehand holding onto the railing, the other waving, signalled me tocome over.

 

This is interesting…” He was indicating the pit. “If we hadpoliticians like these goats and rhinos we’d have fewer

problemsin our country. Unfortunately we have a prime minister whohas the armour plating of a rhinoceros without any of its goodsense.”I didn’t know much about politics. Father and

Mothercomplained regularly about Mrs. Gandhi, but it meant little tome. She lived far away in the north, not at the zoo and not inPondicherry. But I felt I had to say something.

The white wolf ran from it, racing toward the cave of night where the sun had hidden, his breath frosting in the air. On

starless nights the great cliff was as black as stone, a darkness towering high above the wide world, but when the moon came out it shimmered pale and icy as a frozen stream. The wolf’s pelt was thick and

shaggy, but when the wind blew along the ice no fur could keep the chill out. On the other side the wind was colder still, the

wolf sensed. That was where his brother was, the grey brother who smelled of summer.

“Snow.” An icicle tumbled from a branch. The white wolf turned and bared his teeth. “Snow!” His fur rose bristling, as

the woods dissolved around him. “Snow, snow, snow!” He heard the beat of wings. Through the gloom a raven flew.

It landed on Jon Snow’s chest with a thump and a scrabbling of claws. “SNOW!” it screamed into his face.

“I hear you.” The room was dim, his pallet hard. Grey light leaked through the shutters, promising another bleak cold

day. “Is this how you woke Mormont? Get your feathers out of my face.” Jon wriggled an arm out from under his

blankets to shoo the raven off. It was a big bird, old and bold and scruffy, utterly without fear. “Snow,” it cried, flapping to

his bedpost. “Snow, snow.” Jon filled his fist with a pillow and let fly, but the bird took to the air. The pillow struck the wall and burst, scattering stuffing everywhere

just as Dolorous Edd Tollett poked his head through the door. “Beg pardon,” he said, ignoring the flurry of feathers, “shall I fetch m’lord some breakfast?”

“Corn,” cried the raven. “Corn, corn.”

“Roast raven,” Jon suggested. “And half a pint of ale.” Having a steward fetch and serve for him still felt strange; not long ago, it would have

 

been him fetching

breakfast for Lord

Commander

Mormont.

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Mr. Kumar was the first avowed atheist I ever met.

Mr. Kumar was the first avowed atheist I ever met. Idiscovered this not in the classroom but at the zoo. He was aregular visitor who read the labels and descriptive

notices intheir entirety and approved of every animal he saw. Each tohim was a triumph of logic and mechanics, and

nature as awhole was an exceptionally fine illustration of science. To hisears, when an animal felt the urge to mate, it

said “GregorMendel”, recalling the father of genetics, and when it was timeto show its mettle, “Charles Darwin”, the father of

naturalselection, and what we took to be bleating, grunting, hissing,snorting, roaring, growling, howling, chirping and screechingwere but the thick accents of

foreigners. When Mr. Kumarvisited the zoo, it was to take the pulse of the universe, andhis stethoscopic mind always confirmed to him that

everythingwas in order, that everything was order. He left the zoo

feelingscientifically, refreshed. The first time I saw his triangular formteetering and tottering about the zoo, I was shy to

approachhim. As much as I liked him as a teacher, he was a figure ofauthority, and I, a subject. I was a little afraid of him.

Iobserved him at a distance. He had just come to therhinoceros pit. The two Indian rhinos were great attractions atthe zoo because of the goats. Rhinos are social

animals, andwhen we got Peak, a young wild male, he was showing signsof suffering from isolation and he was eating

less and less. Asa stopgap measure, while he searched for a female, Fatherthought of seeing if Peak couldn’t be accustomed

to living withgoats. If it worked, it would save a valuable animal. If it didn’t,it would only cost a few goats. It worked

marvellously. Peakand the herd of goats became inseparable, even when Summitarrived. Now, when the rhinos bathed, the goats stood aroundthe muddy

pool, and when the goats ate in their corner, Peakand Summit stood next to them like guards. The livingarrangement was very popular with the public.

“Snow,” the moon called down again, cackling. The white wolf padded along the man trail beneath the icy cliff. The taste

of blood was on his tongue, and his ears rang to the song of the hundred cousins. Once they had been six, five whimpering

blind in the snow beside their dead mother, sucking cool milk from her hard dead nipples whilst he crawled off alone.

 

Four remained …

and one the white

wolf could no

longer sense.

shlfag.com

 

He’s an excellent cook. His overheated house is

He’s an excellent cook. His overheated house is alwayssmelling of something delicious. His spice rack looks like anapothecary’s shop. When he opens his refrigerator or hiscupboards, there are many brand names I don’t

recognize;in fact, I can’t even tell what language they’re in. We arein India. But he handles Western dishes equally well. Hemakes me the most zestyyet subtle macaroni and cheese I’veever had. And his vegetarian tacos would be the

envy of allMexico.
I notice something else: his cupboards are jam-packed.
Behind every door, on every shelf, stand mountains ofneatly stacked cans and packages. A reserve of food to lastthe siege of Leningrad.

Chapter 7It was my luck to have a few good teachers in my youth,men and women who came into my dark head and lit amatch. One of these was Mr.

Satish Kumar, my biology teacherat Petit Seminaire and an active Communist who was alwayshoping Tamil Nadu would stop electing movie stars and go

theway of Kerala. He had a most peculiar appearance. The top ofhis head was bald and pointy, yet he had the most impressivejowls I have ever seen, and

his narrow shoulders gave way toa massive stomach that looked like the base of a mountain,except that the mountain stood in thin air, for it

stoppedabruptly and disappeared horizontally into his pants. It’s amystery to me how his stick-like legs supported the weightabove them, but they did,

though they moved in surprisingways at times, as if his knees could bend in any direction. Hisconstruction was geometric: he looked like two triangles, a smallone and a larger one, balanced on two parallel lines. Butorganic, quite

warty actually, and with sprigs of black hairsticking out of his ears. And friendly. His smile seemed to takeup the whole base of his triangular head.

The white wolf raced through a black wood, beneath a pale cliff as tall as the sky. The moon ran with him, slipping through a tangle of bare branches overhead, across the starry sky.

“Snow,” the moon murmured. The wolf made no answer. Snow crunched beneath his paws. The wind sighed through the trees.

Far off, he could hear his packmates calling to him, like to like. They were hunting too. A wild rain lashed down upon his black brother as he tore at the

flesh of an enormous goat, washing the blood from his side where the goat’s long horn had raked him. In another place, his little sister lifted her head to sing to the moon, and a hundred small grey cousins broke off their hunt to

sing with her. The hills were warmer where they were, and full of food. Many a night his sister’s pack gorged on the flesh of sheep and cows and horses,

 

the prey of men, and

sometimes even

on the flesh of

man himself.

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“I am glad that you could come,” she said, but the

“I am glad that you could come,” she said, but the words were stilted, not especially cordial, and again that inexplicable feeling of uneasiness swept over Roberta.

The snowmelt only made him hungrier. It was food his belly craved, not water. The snow had stopped falling, but the wind was rising, filling the air with crystal, slashing at his face as he

 

struggled through the drifts, the wound in his side opening and closing again. His breath made a ragged white cloud. When he reached the weirwood tree, he found a fallen branch just long

 

enough to use as a crutch. Leaning heavily upon it, he staggered toward the nearest hut. Perhaps the villagers had forgotten something when they fled … a sack of apples, some dried meat, anything to keep him alive until Thistle returned.

 

“It was good of you to think of me,” she responded, although she very much wanted to open the throttle and go sailing off, leaving her passenger to seek another pilot to take her on her

 

mysterious mission. However, she suppressed the desire and opened the door of the cockpit instead. Mrs. Pollzoff took55 her place and quickly adjusted herself, but it wasn’t until Nike had

 

them high in the air a few moments later that Roberta noticed the woman had a bit of gauze and a long strip of courtplaster on her lower jaw. They were sailing over the eastern corner of

 

the Lurtiss Field and a pang of sadness made Roberta blink hard as she glanced down at the familiar scene.

The snowmelt only made him hungrier. It was food his belly craved, not water. The snow had stopped falling, but the wind was rising, filling the air with crystal, slashing at his face as he

 

struggled through the drifts, the wound in his side opening and closing again. His breath made a ragged white cloud. When he reached the weirwood tree, he found a fallen branch just long

 

enough to use as a crutch. Leaning heavily upon it, he staggered toward the nearest hut. Perhaps the villagers had forgotten something when they fled … a sack of apples, some

 

dried meat,

anything to keep

him alive until

Thistle returned.

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