Why We Indians Are Nothing Like Our National Animal


Why We Indians Are Nothing Like Our National Animal

Illustration: Akshita Monga

In a recently heated discussion at a rooftop winter party in Delhi, a debate raged about what decides the fate of a country. Some said it’s the Constitution, while some argued that it’s the leaders that make a difference, and a few others said it’s public goods. To me the answer lay elsewhere: It’s your national animal.

If you’ve paid any attention to what animal represents which country, chances are you are working in the media. Nobody else has the time to think of this stuff. But, if you have, you’ll realise that the choice of a national animal is no coincidence. Just like brands arise out of symbols, animals and birds chosen to represent a country are also harbingers of its fate.

You will notice, for starters, that the countries that have chosen apt animals are doing just fine. The Chinese have the dragon and they are spewing fire and growing at will. Dragons don’t follow a path and all. They just go for broke. The Americans have the bald eagle. Very apt, one might say. An eagle swoops over land and catches innocent prey, sometimes off guard. Of course, with technology, the innocent are in far-off lands like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. But hey, those countries needed democracy alright.

Australia has the kangaroo and they are on point. The Australians have hopped into the future. One moment you don’t hear about them and the next, they’re suddenly changing the world – in cricket, they led the way with Steve Waugh’s team or in politics, with their immigration policy. Canada has a horse – majestic, good-looking, strong, healthy, and handsome – and it reflects in the choice of their PM. That the Canadians are galloping away when it comes to liberalism also makes their choice completely well-deserved. Denmark has a mute swan, and again, it’s perfect. Rarely do you come across Danes with a vociferous point of view on anything? Greece has the Phoenix and given its debt crisis, it is expected to rise from the ashes. Pakistan has the crocodile and most nationalists will agree that it is a fine choice. Anything works for Pakistan, as long as it is not a pleasant animal known for its kind deeds.

And this is where India suffers. We’ve got it wrong with the tiger. Because let’s face it, we are not tigers. We can be peacocks who come out to dance when it rains, but that’s probably only Shah Rukh Khan’s “Chak Dhoom Dhoom” crew from Dil Toh Pagal Hai. By choosing the tiger, we have set the bar too high. People expect us to be aggressive, sharp, and proud. But we’re pretty laid back. We’re happy if we get a bronze in Olympics. We’re happy if we jump 30 places on the Ease of Doing Business index – completely discarding the fact that we’re still in the bottom 100. We’re thrilled when we lose a final; we celebrate for being the first runner-up. We aren’t endangered by any stretch of imagination, and God knows, we aren’t reclusive either. Tigers are fiercely private and we think nothing of watching an entire film on someone else’s phone screen. Tigers clean up behind them. We don’t, we still expect Dalits to do it.

India got it wrong with the tiger as the national animal. Because let’s face it, we are not tigers.

So perhaps, it is time we change our national animal. Of course, given the times we live in, the lowest hanging fruit is the cow. But remember, it’s the national animal we are talking about here, not the nationalist animal. And also some of us are still eating it. You shouldn’t be able to order a national animal off a menu, should you?  

Alternatively, we can choose the donkey. Hardworking, honest, and one who never complains – no matter how badly you treat it, it’ll stay loyal and do your work. The relationship of our citizens and bureaucracy is a lot like that. But some might prefer the rat – low on courage, scurrying from pillar to post to get a job done, and always in a proverbial race. And then there is the sheep – be it engineering, marriage, or career choices – nobody is better than us when it comes to following the herd. We love echo chambers. Mehh.

But hiding from all these obvious choices is the real winner: Po, the Panda from Kung Fu Panda. The panda will work well for India because nobody expects anything out of a panda. If he gets some work done, it comes as a surprise. If he doesn’t, it’s cool. Much like how India works. If the Metro gets made on time, we’re surprised. If it takes seven extra years, we’re absolutely fine with that. Nobody protests, nobody expects much from the government.

Po is always hungry and ready for a snack. Given that we are the carb capital of the world, that’s a natural fit too. Much like Po, we need incentives to work hard. We won’t just do our jobs. What’s the point of that? What Master Shifu does to make Po train, is exactly how we work too. Show us incentive and we will move mountains. Tell an Indian to follow any rule or about prohibition, and our first reaction is, “Kuch ho sakta hai kya, dekho na?We want to subvert it, we want to bend it. Not because we’re inherently dishonest. But because we just enjoy it; we find some sort of thrill in this.

With the budget session starting in the coming week and no worthwhile discussion likely to be on the cards, maybe this issue can be worthy of a walkout. We’re great at going at each other like cats and dogs anyway.