Excerpted from a short story that first appeared in The Aleph Review, Vol. 1 (2017).
One thousand elephants standing in a ring round the track in the middle of the stadium lifted up their trunks and began to sing the Animals’ Anthem.
Creatures big and small
We are animals all.
The stadium was packed. The best seats in the grand stand were taken by cats from all over the world who had travelled for the Whole Earth Fabulous Games in the Congo. The cats turned their heads up to the celebrity balcony when the anthem began to look at the Emperor Lion who sat on the throne of gold under a marble arch draped in red, gold and purple coloured silks.
The Emperor himself had joined the singing of the anthem! The cats felt really proud. He was big and they were small but they were animals all! What wonderful solidarity! Everyone loved everyone else. Not because the big felt sorry for the small and not because the small felt they had to look up to the big. There was only one reason why everyone loved everyone else. Because they were animals all!
In front of the ring of one thousand elephants there was a circle of 500 baby elephants who sang the next verse in their beautiful baby voices.
We are young, we are brave,
Born free, we’re no man’s slave.
The big elephants together gave out a loud cry that went round the stadium like a sonic boom. All the cats looked up at the Emperor Lion. He had stood up and was pumping the air with his forelegs. The cats were real proud never to have been any man’s slave. Just let any man try to threaten their independence!
When the echo of the elephants’ loud cry died down, the whole chorus, the big elephants and the baby elephants sang together:
The lion, tiger and the baboon,
Friends of the earth, the sun and the moon.
Leopard, lizard and gorilla,
Butterfly or caterpillar.
Then the whole stadium joined in:
Creatures big and small
We are animals all.
All the cats were standing up in their seats on their hind legs and beating the air with their paws. A hippopotamus slipped out of his seat and jogged in front of the popular stand. A possum and a mongoose joined him, and a rhinoceros soon followed. The four formed themselves into a circle and jogged a half-circle to the left and a half-circle to the right like they had just made up the coolest dance.
The anthem ended. The one thousand elephants, their trunks up in the air, trotted off. They trotted on the track like they were doing a lap of honour and then went and stood at the entrance of the stadium forming themselves into five lines.
One hundred of the baby elephants formed a tight circle in the middle of the open space in the centre of the stadium. The remaining four hundred baby elephants formed themselves into four equal groups. They seemed to be running around in total confusion just like kids who don’t know if they’re going or coming. But the baby elephants were smart and had rehearsed hard.
Suddenly, what had looked like confusion was the coolest thing you ever saw. Each of the four groups of one hundred baby elephants had arranged itself into a diamond shape and looked like it had stuck itself to the tight circle of the one hundred in the middle. One on each side. North, south, east, west. Like four petals. And what do you know? They all then raised their baby trunks and the whole arrangement looked like the prettiest flower you ever saw!
The whole stadium was roaring and screaming in applause. In one of the stands the laughing monkeys were beside themselves, beating their stomachs, patting each other and laughing their heads off. Everyone was having fun.
The baby elephants finished their act and ran a lap of honour. Just when they were exiting, the light seemed to dim and the stadium went nearly dark like there had been a sudden eclipse of the sun. Everyone looked up.
The big circle at the top of the stadium that was open to the sky was filled with swallows. At first they looked like a lid had fallen to close off the sky. But then they broke off into groups and began to swoop this way and that. One flock swooped this way, and another that, so that quick openings appeared that showed the blue sky and then as quickly closed to be followed by new openings.
Everyone looked up amazed. As different flocks flew this way and that, there were quick changing squares and triangles and tiny shimmering circles of blue sky that flickered in the big circle at the top of the stadium. It was like looking through a kaleidoscope. One beautiful pattern, and then, a little twist of the kaleidoscope, another even more beautiful. One flock of swallows swooped this way and one that, and click, the sky was a flower made of blue petals, and the next moment, click, another flower!
The crowd went wild. The White Horses from Vienna, the famous Lipizanner Stallions, were so thrilled they jumped out of their stand and did a waltz on the track. In the celebrity balcony the Gorilla from Angola was seen to beat his chest. Then, in a flick of a wing, the swallows vanished, and the top of the stadium was a blue circle.
There was a moment’s silence, then a piercing scream. A bald eagle glided down into the stadium. In his claws he clasped branches of bay leaves woven into a wreath. It looked like he was hang-gliding as he floated in a wide circle.
He flapped his wings, rose up in the air and floated down again, and came spiralling down and slid silently into the grand stand. The bald eagle hung a moment above the Emperor Lion and gently dropped the wreath on his head.
In the celebrity balcony the Gorilla from Angola roared. On his left the Cow from Kolkata bellowed, and on his right the Black Mamba from Mombasa hissed.
All the cats in the grandstand closed their eyes and purred for a full minute.
In a lower stand the Kangaroos from the Outback clapped their pouches daintily and the heads of baby kangaroos popped out and looked at the world in surprise.
One thousand white-tailed rabbits sprang out and hopped in crazy merriment on the track. There seemed a total confusion of perked up ears and waving little white tails, it was enough to make the laughing monkeys grin at each other. But before anyone knew it, 600 rabbits had formed an X, 300 making one arm and 300 the other, and hopping like they were running from a wild fire in the forest. The remaining 400 rabbits formed themselves into a big O around the X, so that a large spinning wheel made up of running rabbits began to circle the stadium at great speed. The Gorilla from Angola slapped his forehead, closed his eyes for a moment and shook his head like he had never seen anything so unbelievably cool.
When he opened his eyes five seconds later, he was in for another surprise.
Out of nowhere, it seemed, 100 Amazonian parrots swooped down and flying no higher than 20 feet from the ground, began to trail the spinning wheel of the rabbits, but that was not all: 100 Red cardinals flew behind the Amazonian parrots, and behind the Red cardinals 100 Green-headed tanagers, then 100 Blue-footed white-winged boobies, and behind the Blue-footed boobies, 100 Yellow finches followed by 100 Blue jays. At the front, the spinning rabbit wheel went circling the stadium in the middle track lane and keeping pace behind it was what from the higher seats looked like a multicoloured flag composed of 600 birds, and since all the birds were trying to fly at 20 feet above the ground and because some flew at 15 feet and some at 20 feet and some at 25 feet, it looked like the spinning wheel of the rabbits was pulling behind it a waving flag filled with all the colours of the world.
The Gorilla from Angola slapped his forehead again, closed his eyes for ten seconds and shook his head in disbelief, he was so amazed. All the cats in the grandstand stood up on their seats and all their little heads turned as one as they watched the colourful flag waving behind the spinning wheel of the rabbits, and then, all together, they collapsed on their seats, closed their eyes and purred for a full minute.
Higher up, at the level of the celebrity balcony and in line with Emperor Lion, the bald eagle flew above the spinning wheel of the rabbits. Flapping its wings, the bald eagle flew up above the centre of the stadium when the circle had been completed. Just when he was right in the dead middle, one thousand white doves, who had been sitting on the rim of the roof that covered the stands round the stadium, waiting just for this moment, jumped out. The one thousand white doves arranged themselves into groups to form the blades of a fan and began to fly round and round the bald eagle. The whole formation descended gently, going round and round, stirring up a fresh breeze.
The Orangutans from Myanmar leaped out of their stands and jumped about the track to enjoy the breeze. The strongest air current whirled around the celebrity balcony where the Gorilla from Angola beat his forehead with his left hand as if to say, This is so cool! In the seat next to the Cow from Kolkata, the Owl from Uzbekistan went, Whoo-whoo.
Spinning faster and faster, the formation of the one thousand white doves around the bald eagle rose up slowly. It got so fast it seemed not to be spinning at all. When it was up at the level of the roof it looked like a big white flower.
Who knew all the codes, who went round and round like a Category 5 hurricane in that room, punching buttons, who was in charge of what was going on in the world above? It was Coolipso the Cool Calico Cat!
The Cheetah who advised the Emperor Lion put his mouth to the Emperor’s ear. The Lamb from La Plata sitting at the Emperor’s feet heard what the Cheetah said and bleated it aloud.
The one thousand white doves spinning fast around the bald eagle had formed The Flower of World Peace.
Spinning and spinning, the Flower of World Peace rose high above the stadium till it looked like a small lily. Then the sky was filled with small specks as the one thousand doves scattered, each one like a petal floating away, one to the desert of Arabia, one to the delta of the Ganges, one to the eyeless in Gaza, one to the Knesset in Israel, one thousand petals of the Flower of World Peace for one thousand countries of the world.
The whole stadium began to sing the anthem again. Then there were roars and shrieks and howls. In the celebrity balcony the Gorilla from Angola had got up from his seat and was jumping up and down in the aisle.
It sounded like the whole world had gone wild with happiness. There was not an animal who did not feel total love for all the animals in the world.
In the meanwhile, one thousand cormorants had appeared in the sky. They broke off into four groups to make up four V-formations and took off on their flight to the four corners of the earth, so that there was one V flying to the east, another to the west, one to the north and a fourth V to the south.
The Cheetah whispered something into the Emperor Lion’s ear. The Lamb from La Plata bleated it out to the world. Victory to the Flower of World Peace.
The Gorilla from Angola bounded down the aisle, bowed before the Emperor Lion, picked up the Lamb from La Plata and placed it on his left shoulder, turned round, bounded past his seat and grabbed the Black Mamba from Mombasa and hung it from his other shoulder. He went running down the steps, and bounded to the track to join the waltz, which the White Horses from Vienna had just begun. The elephants trumpeted in chorus.
It was the Carnival of the Animals!
The Antelopes from Bolivia, the Reindeer from Norway, the Wallabies from Australia, even the Sloth from the left bank of the Rio Negro in Amazonia, everyone was singing and dancing.
Then there was what sounded like humming in the air. It got louder and became a buzz, like someone was going to sing. It got louder and louder. Next thing, little dark clouds seemed to drop down from the sky. Buzz-buzzbuzzzzzzzzzz.
They came lower, went higher again, then up and down in waves, the little dark clouds, going buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, broke off into cloudlets and were going up and down and waving from side to side.
Seven million Bumblebees from Kazakhstan had flown into the stadium and formed themselves into hundreds of thousands of little flowers and then arranged themselves into thousands of bouquets and went up and down and floated from side to side doing the Dance of the Bumblebees.
With their yellow and black bodies and blue sunlight catching their transparent wings, and the whole seven million of them singing their famous melody, Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, they filled the stadium, so that there was a Carnival of Animals on the ground and the Dance of the Bumblebees in the air.
In the long-jump sandpit, the Turtles from Galapagos had turned themselves upside down and were waving their legs in the air.
Now, as even the tiniest sparrow in Madagascar knows, nothing in the world happens by itself.
Someone is in control.
Someone with the biggest brain. Someone with the quickest eye. Someone who can run faster than light and be everywhere before everyone else.
Someone is in control!
Down below the stadium was a big control room. Red lights and green lights flashed from machines that went buzz-buzz, buzz-buzz. Blue buttons and yellow buttons that had to be pressed to put in a code into the activation machine one minute and delete it the next.
Who knew all the codes, who went round and round like a Category 5 hurricane in that room, punching buttons, who was in charge of what was going on in the world above?
It was Coolipso the Cool Calico Cat!
Zulfikar Ghose is a novelist, poet and essayist. A native of Pakistan and currently resident of Texas, his works are primarily magical realism, blending fantasy and harsh realism. After receiving his BA in English and Philosophy from Keele University in 1959, Ghose became a cricket correspondant on The Observer and reviewed books for Western Daily Press, TLS, New Statesman, and The Spectator. He became a British citizen in 1961 and published his first book, The Loss of India, in 1964. Ghose has written both poetic and prosaic, fictional and nonfictional works. His books of poetry include The Violent West, A Memory of Asia and Selected Poems. He has written short stories, novels and five books of literary criticism.
Kausar Iqbal is a practicing artist keen on the miniature tradition of painting. He graduated from the prestigious National College of Arts, Lahore in 2006 with a major in miniature. He has trained and worked in a variety of techniques in print-making, sculpture and photography and has attended two workshops related to paper mache and calligraphy. Iqbal has participated in group shows in galleries across Pakistan, such as MyArtWorld, Islamabad; Rohtas 1,Islamabad; Taseer Art Gallery, Lahore; Ejaz Art Gallery, Lahore; Art Scene Art Gallery, Karachi; and Grandeur Art Gallery, Karachi to name a few. In 2016 he was chosen to participate in the Islamic Republic International Festival in Algeria. He currently lives in Lahore and teaches at the Pakistan Institute of Fashion and Design.