Dia Mirza: I saw a chained elephant on a school trip to the zoo and became upset
On World Elephant Day, the brand ambassador of Wildlife Trust of India, recalls her childhood days when the sight of a chained elephant in zoo pained her, and why years later she started working for their cause.
Like any child, actor Dia Mirza, too, was entranced when she first saw an elephant. “The first time I saw an elephant was on the streets of Hyderabad. I was very young and was just so enamored by that sight. It was so unusual to see an elephant in an urban place,” recalls the actor who is participating in the ongoing festival Gaj Mahotsav, in Delhi.
“I saw an elephant on a school trip to the zoo. I remember seeing [its] legs chained, and it wasn’t in a very big enclosure. It really upset me a lot.”
Mirza, who is the brand ambassador of Wildlife Trust of India, remembers how as a child she became sorrowful on seeing an elephant in the zoo. “My mother never took me to the zoo because she hated to see animals in captivity. But, this other time [when] I saw an elephant, it was on a school trip to the zoo. I remember seeing [its] legs chained, and it wasn’t in a very big enclosure. It really upset me a lot,” says the Bollywood actor, who recently returned after a sabbatical with the recent Bollywood film Sanju.
But in her childhood innocence, Mirza couldn’t understand why she felt bad seeing an elephant chained. “As a child, the only thing you want is your natural instincts. But it was much easier later when I saw animals in the wild that I discovered why that sight had troubled me so much; because there’s nothing more beautiful than seeing an animal in the wild, and specially seeing wild elephants. They are just unbelievable animals, so beautiful. You look at them, and you think my God [they] have roamed this earth for millions of years before we humans even arrived and know so much… they are incredible creatures,” says Mirza.
The actor admits that animals need to be free, too. “The World Elephant Day, which is August 12, and the symbolism of how close it is to Independence Day makes it all the more meaningful to all of us in conversation because we all hope to achieve a world where animals and human beings, wildlife and human development can co-exist without causing destruction. And the fact of the matter is that our whole well-being and productivity is connected to nature and the environment. And, it’s true we are all born free, and we must feel free to make the choices and follow the path that we need to in life, [and] so should all living beings… When we see from the [point of] right of passage and freedom of movement, we are speaking of migratory routes that these elephants have used for millions of years that have been interrupted by human development. And just by allowing them their space we can actually put an end to a lot of conflict that has arose [resulting in] loss of life on both sides.”
“Just because we live in cities or we don’t see elephants every day, it doesn’t mean they don’t have their fundamental right [to] feel free and move!”
Mirza emphasies that elephants are the “gardeners of our forests” and “keep our forest alive”. And since Gaj Mahotsav is probably the first time that artists are coming together in such a big format, for the first time, Mirza says, “When people from such diverse vocation of arts and culture come together in celebration of nature, it will help recreate an understanding of love that we have always had for our nature. And just because we live in cities or we don’t see elephants every day, it doesn’t mean they don’t interest [us] and they don’t have their fundamental right [to] feel free and move!”
The actor has always “reiterated the importance and need to bring the narrative of nature into mainstream society”. Talking about the same, she adds, “The fact of the matter is our art and culture is incomplete without the influence and inspiration of nature. This sub-continent has historically a revered nature. And you will see incredible examples of that in the exhibitions and interactions over the next few days. So, we are not devoid of this understanding. But, on some level with urbanisation we [have become] far removed from nature and disconnected from this truth that we have embraced an ancient civilisation so much so that we worship nature. [So] we are losing our connection with that.”
But, how much of this effort she thinks will work? “I follow the adage of Baba Dioum: In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”
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First Published: Aug 12, 2018 17:11:57