Thoughts with the Little Brown Bear
Long ago my nan gave me a little wooden bear. He was old and beat up. He had one black, pinhead eye, a gnawed ear and glued-back-on paws. He’d been through the wars, in fact that’s when she bought him. Her father, Jack, was injured and she fretted he wouldn’t get well. She spied the bear in a knick-knack shop. He winked and said Jack would be ship-shape in no time. A man-whisperer of a bear bought for tuppence ha’penny. He kept his promise. Jack got well and back to his drinking and tomfoolery.
When Jack passed away, the bear came back. Nanna put him on a dresser here, a window sill there. Old blue-bear staring out into the deep mists of winter, yearning for the unknown. I half expected a fog horn to sound and the giant keel of a ship to moor up in the garden, bulge and shatter the dining room panes. It never did; still hasn’t. And when I went to Kochi zoo with the kids, I saw another bear. And that touch of the melancholic reminded me of my wooden lodger in my cavernous heart.
John Berger wrote that zoos were originally created to display colonial power; animals noosed across the empire, hauled back to prowl and glisten, muscular jewels in a caged crown. Except if you do catch the eye of a zoo animal, the hot immediacy of the wild is gone, instead there is disconnect, a half-hearted hiss, a retracted roar, like looking into our own eyes, caged in the living-machines of the city. The false hope of Le Corbusier perched alone, in front of the mirror, the dead symmetry of his apartment block, peering down from high windows, into the fog, waiting for that ship from the unknown, to moor, to board and be gone. The endless beat of keel on wave, the dull dent on distant shorelines, crunching sand, crawling legs, vines slinking from the dark foliage to the light, curling round your ankles and dragging you back in, the willing captive.