In pathless deserts

In Pathless Deserts (c) Young World, The Hindu, 2013

The Arabian oryx writes to Aristotle. He is hesitant and doubtful at best, showing his gentle, dreamy nature.

Dear Aristotle,

Salama aleikum!

Umm… as I was saying… er, I mean, as I was thinking, we too are Taoists, I think. Like we live in pathless deserts of the Arabian Peninsula; and umm, yeah, we do nothing, I mean, there is nothing to do. Would that be the same thing? Umm, I am not too sure… never mind that. Tao cow chap, umm or rather chapess, is learned but we the oryx, her superior antelope cousins in the bovine family, have the wisdom of experienced. Umm, ya, so hear my philosophy of life.

How do I begin… hmmm yeah; I will tell you about the oryx family. Heard of unicorns? Well. They are legendary creatures — people say we are the unicorns. We are real but I am not sure about the other creature. Umm, that is confusing you, eh? I will explain that again. Look at us from the side, umm… I shall send you some pics of me… you will see my two parallel, straight, narrow, long razor-sharp horns look like one. Understand, eh? Perhaps, that’s why people thought we were the mythical unicorns. I am gorgeous, pure white, sandy brown legs, short at about 3-ft tall, umm so what? — with, umm, say a foot and half long horns.

Not a ghost

Sad thing… umm, some 30 years ago, we became extinct in the wild. No, no, I am not a ghost or a unicorn! A few remaining members of our species were protected. We were bred in captivity and later released into the wild. Now, we are okay, umm, though still endangered. What do they say, umm, bad is never good till it gets worse? True, isn’t it? Our cousins in Africa are stunning too. Nearly four-feet tall, with amazing, four-feet long horns, they live in deserts of north and eastern Africa. Even lions are afraid, umm, of those horns. Remember that song — The Lion and the Unicorn fought for the Crown, hmmm? No, do not think us umm, as fighter-cocks… we are not birds, umm, we are — how to say it — gentle but no-nonsense-please types. We are Taoists, I think, umm, yeah, we are in harmony with our universe, no? I think so.

The sun makes pathless deserts… yeah you can also make hay… but we feed on shrubs, roots, coarse grasses. We eat very little, umm and we can do without water for days, or maybe months… no way to tell time. It stands still yet it flies. The temperatures in summer afternoons go up and up and up. No problem, umm for us. Hmmm, like we can raise our body temperature to 116ºF. Yet, we can keep our brain from getting heated up. That is cool, eh? I mean, hot but cool adaptation, no? We never, umm, sweat till the desert temperature goes above that. We sit in the shade of acacia trees… wait, watch or doze. Nothing is happening most of the time… umm. A pair of dung beetles, umm, carry away our droppings. Hmmm, funny, how often they bump into each other! I guess we watch nothing as it happens.

As I was saying zzzzzzzzzz…

Arabian oryx

Reply from Aristotle

Umm! He seems to have lost it; perhaps a touch of the desert sun. Anyway, these antelopes were hunted for their meat and their beautiful horns, which were considered to have magical powers. Poor things! They are sitting ducks for poachers. They move slowly; they are gentle. Small wonder they became extinct in the wild in the early 1970s. Now they are here to haunt us with their letters!


Published as part of a series titled ‘Aristotle’s Mailbag’ in Young World, The Hindu, dt. April 15, 2013

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