Monday, August 7, 2017

When the Lions Roamed Free

July 2017: Anna retells the story of lions roaming free to 
Ananya, my niece, and Mamta, my sister,'
to much laughter and encouragement
A few months ago, Anna was quite the chatty Cathy for a few days. That is an oddity, given that most days he is quiet, only responding to direct questions. With his eyes closed. So, him being chatty is a treat. When I say chatty, I mean that that he could talk for 15 mins at a stretch without falling asleep or losing his train of thought. That's really chatty for him.

Anna: Lions are majestic.

Me (looking at the news, confused): What lions, Anna?

Anna: The lions in Africa. They roam around freely.

Me (I think he is referring to something he has seen on the National Geographic channel that he loves): Yes they do Anna. Specially in grasslands, and open forests.

Anna: They roam freely amongst people. They don't harm the people at all.

Me (wondering if this is a hallucination, or if he is telling me about a dream, or a story): Really, Anna?

Lion Staircase, Bardo Palace, Tunis
Photo Courtesy: E. Selmaj
Anna: The stairs have lions on either side, too.

I am totally confused, wondering what lions are doing roaming freely on either side of a staircase that people use.

Me: What staircase, Anna? Where is this staircase?

Anna: In Tunis. At the Palace. It is a beautiful staircase. The lions each have a different expression.

Me: Anna, when did you go to Tunis?

Anna: A few years ago. I think it's been over 30 years since Anna has been to Africa.

Me: Anna, what were you doing in Tunis?

Anna: I went to see Nagarajan. 
Anna has known Uncle Nagarajan for ~70 years.

Me: What was Uncle Nagarajan doing there?

Anna: He was working at an oil refinery, in Algiers. The Americans had set up refineries and they needed technical people, so Nagarajan went.

Algiers? I thought we were in Tunisia at the Bardo Palace near where Uncle Nagarajan was working?! But now Anna had moved to Algeria in the blink of an eye.

From what I can make out Anna saw lions in Tunis. Were they alive and roaming free or were they stone statues? I am confused. But that's kind-of becoming the norm for me - being confused and logical at the same time.

Anna: One evening, while Nagarajan was working on the bubble cap columns, he saw movement from the corner of his eyes. He thought that it was a "herd" of dogs. But it wasn't. How could dogs all be the same color? When he asked the people around him, they shone their lights where there had been movement. That is when he saw them! The lions of Algiers. Roaming freely around the refinery.

Me: Anna, wasn't Uncle scared? Wasn't it dangerous?

Anna: No. It seems that it was quite normal for the lions to roam the refinery. The lions came and went as they pleased. More in the evening time when it was cool. Pause. They also roamed the village nearby.

Me: The village nearby?

Anna: Yes. We went there and met with the headman. When we asked him if he had seen the lions, he told us that the whole village had. The lions roamed freely between their huts. No one harmed them so they didn't harm the villagers.

All eight editions of Perry’s Chemical Engineers’ Handbook
Pub. Date2008, 1997, 1984, 1973, 1963, 1950, 1941, 1934
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
I am fascinated by this story and ask him questions about the location of the oilfield, bubble cap columns, the refining process. He answers all my questions, even advising me to read Perry's Handbook to understand the distillation process better!

Me: Anna, did you see the lions roaming free in the oil refinery? Or the village?

Anna: Unfortunately, no.


Anna: You know, they don't need boundary walls for protection. Not for the refinery. Not for the village. Pause. The lions protect the refinery and the people. Roaming free.

I have not verified this story with Uncle Nagarajan who is 91 or 92 years old.
Anna has also narrated the story to my sister and niece.
Pretty much word for word.
I believe that this is a true story.


  1. Such precious conversations... And we too participate and read these wonderful thoughts, so lucid. Thanks Sangeeta.

    1. Thanks for reading them and writing your comments. That encourages me to write and others to read more :-)

  2. Fantastic Sangeetha.. This post was so riveting I raced till the end, and was still hungry for more.. Amazing three times over.. firstly the story itself, as a real life account of the balance of Nature juxtaposed with the enterprise of Man.. secondly that it was an old discovery coming with such clarity from the deep recesses of a rich, vibrant mind ravaged by Nature, but not quite lost.. and thirdly, that the story is such a wonderful metaphor with such a strong message for all of us chasing the lucre in today's modern. soulless societies. And of course, not the least of all, your staccato conversation style and those little thought bubbles trying hard to process Anna's surprise outpouring..Keep it coming. You may not realize it but these stories give some cheer and hope to people like us, who face our own challenges with the inevitable slides that come with old age and debilitating disease among those we love and care for.

  3. Thanks APC. So lovely to read your comments. Definitely encourages me to write more. I marvel at the stories that my father has, and realize that there are many, like this one, that I have not heard. He has lived an adventurous life.

  4. Hmmm... Something embedded deep in the brain coming out! Like a story should... slowly!

    1. True. The more stories I can extract the better.