Tilly

Yesterday just before I was leaving to watch Passengers, Saurabh gave me a call and asked if I had heard the news. I asked what news? And he replied with, “Tilikum died”. My heart sank.

It’s life’s ultimate cruelty. Sea World’s branch in San Diego had just announced their last killer whale show. The detractors of Sea World rejoiced. It was a small step toward what they had always wanted. Sea World closing shop, albeit one show in one branch. Of course, it did not mean that there would be no more shows of whales, dolphins, seals, or not to keep several species in captivity, elsewhere, doomed to live an unnatural life devoid of natural attachment and rightful freedom. But where Tilly, as he came to be known in affection, was imprisoned, there would be no showcasing of orcas.

It then came as such a tragedy that Tilikum, the whale responsible for generating such a verdict, would meet his end a week later. It’s almost as if he was born to bring an end to the shows, he had been a part of for approximately 30 years, which so heavily impacted the captured animal trade that exists for base human entertainment. His role in the universe was done and he made his exit amidst millions of tears and tragic applause.

He died at the age of 36. Two other people who impacted my life through their work and lives also died at 36: Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana. No strange thing that I felt a deep affinity for him ever since I saw Blackfish. The documentary left such an impact on me. I’ve grown up having this link to animals. I’ve been with dogs since I was four, and I have grown up in their company. A deep desire has always been to visit the Masai plains and watch the wildebeeste migrate from there to the Serengeti. It’s a calling that I have not yet wholly understood… and I don’t really try to. I have grown up with The Black Stallion being my all-time favourite movie. I used to watch Attenborough religiously in all of his shows dealing with the wild. I cried copiously when I watch Elsa, the lioness, walk away from Joy Adamson, and I remember not ever wanting to see that movie again, as a child. I couldn’t understand why they had to give her up to the wild.

I understand it now.

Freedom is something human beings should understand most of all. We have had revolutions dedicated to its cause. Humanity has so much grace and valour. We deem ourselves to be the most intelligent species on Earth, and yet, we are capable of such barbarism! Intelligent and yet oblivious. Glorious and yet despotic! Capable of such good and yet of such violence. Believers in a higher power and yet have no fear of it. Relativity is taken for granted and thinking through another perspective isn’t even applied. The concept of freedom, I know, can never be understood unless it is taken away.

My heart grieved bitterly. It continued to do so since years, when I hear about the plight of creatures that have been mistreated, victimised, slaughtered. It grieves now. It will continue to do so. But I am afraid that these debates have overtaken public consciousness to such an extent that it’s already a non-issue even in the minds of those who would otherwise care. Apathy created from explanation. It’s so strange. This is also a human condition.

Tilikum died. He died. Alone. Hanging in a small pool.

Ever since the death of Dawn Brancheau in February, 2010, his story has spread far and wide. But his condition worsened. Trainers wouldn’t touch him. He was kept in the size of a pool which would be the equivalent of a human being in a bath tub. He was hosed down instead of being massaged. He was isolated. His shows were cancelled. And he would rest perpendicular in this pool for hours – the sight of which is so horrifyingly filled with despair that even the most ignorant of human hearts would still in response.

I have no faith left in humanity. I have no belief left for higher governance, earthly or divine. I have no recourse except to mention in a most insignificant blog about how I feel and what Tilly meant to me. I just know now, that death brings the ultimate peace and for sure, he is finally at rest.

I end with a song dedicated to Tilly. Stay free!

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