Sultana Raza has an MA in English Literature. Her creative non-fiction has appeared in Literary Ladies Guides, Literary Yard, countercurrents.org, Litro, impspired, Gnarled Oak, and A Beautiful Space. Her 100+ articles (on art, theatre, film, and humanitarian issues) have appeared in English and French. An independent scholar, Sultana Raza has presented many papers related to Romanticism (Keats) and Fantasy (Tolkien) in international conferences.
Of Indian origin, Sultana Raza’s poems have appeared in 90+ journals and anthologies, including Columbia Journal, The New Verse News, London Grip, Classical Poetry Society, spillwords, Poetry24, Dissident Voice, and The Peacock Journal. Her fiction has received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train Review, and has been published in Coldnoon Journal, Szirine, apertura, Entropy, and ensemble (in French). She has read her fiction/poems in India, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, England, Ireland, the US, and at CoNZealand.
Animals & Songs
One of the first Spanish words I learnt was vete! I understood it meant ‘go away!’ I didn’t have to learn to spell it correctly. Just repeat it. But my friend’s dog looked quite puzzled at my strange pronunciation, as he happily wagged his spotted tail, ready to jump onto a hapless, cringing me. Perhaps he understood I liked most members of the doggy tribe, even if I grew up in a hot country, where understandably people weren’t encouraged to allow dogs to shed their thriving colonies of bacteria all over people’s susceptible noses. So every single time, he had to be shooed away by my friend who spoke the dog’s lingo correctly. Perhaps he wanted to sing to me: ‘And then I go and spoil it all / By saying something stupid / Like “I love you!” (as by Williams & Kidman).
My mother sympathized with the story, as Kashmiri dogs would ignore her attempts to shoo them away too, since she spoke in Urdu, another Indian language which they didn’t understand. They needed to hear a word that made sense to them. Not a phonetic approximation of what it should sound like. Not exacting creatures, these simple straight-forward beings, would never get the lyrics of the I’m Not In Love by 10cc. If they could, they’d rather sing Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I love You, However, dogs ensconced in a five-star dog hotel in Luxembourg might not get Shania Twain’s Ka-Ching, if they happened to see it on TV, whilst sitting in their luxury basket next to a swanky sofa.
But for most ordinary dogs, one can suppose that John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads would be their fave. On the other hand, cats are better at finding back their way home. For example, tired of the large litter, an aunt asked someone who was going to the other side of a bridge over the river Yamuna (in India) to take a cat with them. But just a few days and about 15 kilometres later, the cat reappeared again. No one had the heart to send her away again. Without singing it, the cat told those inconsiderate humans inhabiting her home: You’re Never, Ever, Gettin’ Rid Of Me (C. Fitzgerald).
A team of scientists led by Atsuko Saito, a cognitive biologist at the University of Tokyo has suggested that cats can recognize their names, but don’t seem to care enough to respond when called.
“Of course, this study doesn’t prove your cat actually understands the concept of a name, says Mikel Delgado, who studies animal behavior at the University of California, Davis. “It doesn’t mean that the cats understand that the word is a label for them — just that it is a sound that may predict food or cuddles or attention or something else,” Delgado, who was not involved in the study, told Gizmodo’s George Dvorsky. “That is associative learning and of course all animals are capable of that.”1
“Cats are just as good as dogs at learning,” John Bradshaw, a biologist at the University of Bristol who was not involved in the study, told Colin Barras of Nature News & Comment. “They’re just not as keen to show their owners what they’ve learned.””2
However, even the cleverest cat wouldn’t get the lyrics of American Pie, or Bohemian Rhapsody. Not that they’d ever bother about such abstract agonizing over things which can’t be mended, or put to rights. No nostalgic vapours for these comfort-loving felines. They search out the nearest spot as in Seasons In The Sun, by Terry Jacks, and actually soak it up, instead of regretting things that never can be again. Except when a bird got away. Then they’d be inclined to indulge in wishful thinking like Nelly Furtado, I’m Like A Bird. Of course, there are some who believe in Asia that cats keep bad spirits away, and defend the house-hold. Though, perhaps they’d see more stars or even these planetary bodies would seem brighter to their eyes as they can see further and deeper than two-legged creatures in the dark depths of the night. If they ever came across Don McLean playing Vincent, at the very least, they’d sympathize with the reasons why the singer was driven Crazy (sung by Angela Ricci, written by Gnarls Barkley) by these tall, completely illogical, irrational two-legged mammals.
Perhaps they’d discovered long ago that Vincent’s famous painting was inspired by turbulence, and the complicated maths of human relationships. Perhaps he’d been lucky enough to borrow a cat’s eyes for a night in order to visualize the scene for this painting (like A Girl Has No Name did in A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin).
If cats could sing, they’d go for If You Don’t Know Me By Now. Are the lyrics of Where Do You Go To My Lovely? too catty to be sung by a man? Unless he’s serenading his favourite feline.
Though it would be best to avoid enacting or shooting Lady In Red (Chris de Burgh) during the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. Perhaps Red, Red Wine (UB40) might give them pause for thought. Cows are worshipped in India, and are rarely disturbed even if they choose to stand in the middle of the road.
Mice are worshipped in some areas, and the god Hanuman is half monkey, and half human. He and his army of monkeys are supposed to have helped the god Ram in the Indian epic, Ramayana. In fact, the god Hanuman makes an appearance in plays every year when the story of the Ramayana is enacted in many towns and villages in India.
In fact, most myths from around the world have stories of animal helpers. Animals are embedded in our oral traditions and legends since times immemorial. Almost all myths, such as Egyptian and Sumerian ones have beings who are half-human and half-animal. In Greco-Roman myths, threatening or dangerous animals abound such as in the Twelve Labours of Hercules. Possibly because human beings had far less control over nature and wild beasts. Unfortunately, most of the wild animals have been killed almost to the point of extinction (in Europe) now. However, the important role played by Pegasus (the flying horse) who helped to kill the kraken in the tale of Perseus rescuing Andromeda is often overlooked. If Perseus ever sang You Raise Me Up (Josh Groban), perhaps Pegasus would get his thanks at last. He would also understand Immortality by the Bee Gees.
In many Native Americans and other indigenous cultures from around the world, a person’s totem animal is considered to be very important. On the one hand, animals are supposed to be our teachers, and on the other, they can also give strong medicine to the person concerned, if they work with their totem animal, which can change in different periods of their life. Therefore, animals (including fish and birds) can embody not only totemistic characteristics such as appearing as the guardian spirit of the individual concerned, but may also have healing abilities. Perhaps the guardian animal spirits of humanity might appreciate the title of Return to Innocence (Enigma).
Animals also have a certain entertainment value, with dolphins interacting with the audience. They have bigger brains than humans, so does this mean they’re mean more intelligent then us? Though scientists are beginning to decode their language and social group structures of whales and dolphins, perhaps we don’t realize the complexity of how animals communicate with their own species. Perhaps dolphins would appreciate How Deep is Your Love (by the Bee Gees) specially if it’s sung in the depths of the sea.
Horse and dog shows continue to be popular. In fact, drawing attention to problems caused to animals by forest fires, Shania Twain successfully made a white horse part of her song on stage while singing You’re Still the One in 2014 in Las Vegas3. In horse-jumping events, most horses seem to be aware of the audience, and seem to display certain character traits. For example, while some seem to hold their heads high during a show, others can become too nervous and may mess up their chances at winning the show by making mistakes they ordinarily don’t, whilst practising. Once, a horse made lots of funny faces, making me laugh. Perhaps he’d been retired from a circus act, and now lived in a stable along with other horses.
Most people don’t realize the big role horses played in most wars until the First World War. Black Beauty (1877) by Anna Sewell may be a book for children, but it outlines the various kinds of work horses were forced to do before the advent of cars and machinery. Similarly, Bambi, a Life in the Woods the 1923 novel by Felix Salten gives delightful insights into what life in the woods must be like for various animals. If Mariah Carey’s Hero were to be sung to horses, they’d understand it quite well. But perhaps what they’d like to hear most would be Now We’re Free (by Lisa Gerrard), as the wild horse population has gone down drastically in the US and elsewhere.
Monkeys and bears used to entertain the public by dancing to particular tunes. Hopefully, they weren’t mistreated when being trained by their owners, as some monkeys seem to enjoy putting on a show for the public. Even the simplest monkey would know that a guy should try to woo the lady he’s trying to impress. Perhaps by singing Everything I Do by Bryan Adams. Though he should desist from trying to pick any lice in the girl’s hair at the same time. However, a young gibbon would appreciate Sade’s No Ordinary Love, in case he got separated from his mate. If he complained about it to chimpanzees, they might quote What’s Love Got To Do With It? By Tina Turner as an unsympathetic reply. Apes would shrug and say No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley to the forlorn gibbon. Sloths would agree these sentiments, but would be horrified if it heard Wake Me Up Before You Go, Go by Wham, as that would hit a sensitive nerve in them.
Most monkeys would agree with Phil Collins that It’s Just another Day for you and me in Paradise. They have no compunctions about opening a kitchen door, opening the bread box, and boldly walking away with rotis or Indian bread. Why? Because that particular house falls on the way they’ve been taking for centuries in a particular town in northern India. Ever since their king, Hanuman helped Lord Rama back in the days of myths and legends. And they have right of way, even if these pesky humans have gone ahead and built lots of walls, roofs, and stupid doors on their path. And they don’t care for females threatening them. No matter how heavy, or old, or tall. But even a young lad with a stick should be taken seriously, for everyone knows girls can’t fight.
Monkeys would be unlikely to sing Please Forgive Me, for they’re simply taking what is theirs. Does nature ever charge for food? So the word ‘thieving’ shouldn’t exist either. Specially when it’s applied to primates or chimps. They’d be inclined to sing Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Jarhead, or Hey, Hey, We’re The Monkees by The Monkees.
If looking for a song to serenade a lioness, a lion couldn’t do better than Love Is Stronger Than Pride by Sade. Lionesses would sympathize with the sentiments in Sade’s Your Love Is King. An older lion might feel like singing My Way by Sinatra before he hit the road by himself. But perhaps the farewell song of his lionesses to a retired lion who’d been driven away from the pride, would be King of Sorrow, also by Sade. Would an old lion scorn Stand by Me (B. B. King), as he’d prefer to die alone in dignity, than ask anyone to lend him any kind of support.
Would wolves start howling if they heard Sleeping Satellite by Tasmin Archer during the full moon? Or the classic Fly Me To The Moon by Frank Sinatra? They’d understand Can’t Fight The Moonlight by LeAnn Rimes. But perhaps Moon River by Andy Williams, might help them to calm down. Perhaps wolves wouldn’t care too much for Total Eclipse Of The Heart by Bonnie Tyler, specially if it was played during an actual moon eclipse.
Would a mama deer sing The Wolf Song /Nordic Lullaby (by Vargsången) to warn her foal about wolves? Deer might take long leaps in rhythm to I Wanna Run To You by Whitney Houston when running away from wolves, towards their mates.
And if the wolves lost the race, they would be prone to sulking if Winner Takes It All by Abba were played somewhere in their vicinity. And they would appreciate just the title of Hungry Eyes by Carmen.
Elephants would probably smile if they heard Celine Dion’s It’s All Coming Back To Me Now, as they have long memories. Perhaps they’re far more intuitive and intelligent than we can imagine. There are many reports from Thailand to Sri Lanka of elephants rescuing human beings, specially children during the 2004 tsunami. In India, the god Ganesh is half elephant and half man, and poojas (religious ceremonies) are performed in his honour, and songs are sung in his praise. People are somewhat more respectful of elephants in India because of this association with the god Ganesh.
A hippopotamus might be persuaded to sway to the rhythm of Feel by Robbie Williams, if it ever wanted to get out its own skin. Young beavers would appreciate the feeling behind Celine Dion’s All By Myself just before they found their mate for life.
Mares would also appreciate I Wanna Run to You sung by Whitney Houston if they spotted a fine stallion in another field or pasture. Perhaps the bulls in Pamplona would appreciate this song too any time they saw a red flag.
Bears would do well to heed to Sweetest Taboo by Sade before they dipped their paws in a bee-hive to steal their honey. If Hang Onto Your Love by Sade were to be played in a cave filled with bats, would they start swaying to its tune? Before they were taken in mines to test the purity of the air inside, canaries would urge everyone to listen to Cherish The Day by Sade.
Polar bears won’t give high marks for Some where my Love, because the singer (Andy Williams) seems to be waiting for the day when the snow will melt away:
‘Somewhere, my love, / There will be songs to sing / Although the snow / Covers the hope of spring. Somewhere a hill Blossoms in green and gold / And there are dreams / All that your heart can hold. / Someday we’ll meet again, my love. / Someday whenever the spring breaks through.’
An ostrich might quote When You Say Nothing At All by Ronan Keating to a flock of chittering swallows. Talking parrots wouldn’t appreciate The Sound of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel). Sparrows and most birds would be surprised as to why Nora Jones and her pal could get up bright and early in Sunrise, for isn’t that the natural thing to do? However, owls wouldn’t trying the first line of her song Come Away With Me on any potential dates. A little bird told me that nightingales are still waiting for a singer to make a decent sing out of Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale.
Ravens would scoff at Back To Black by Amy Winehouse, as black is their natural colour, and they’re too busy to feel blue. Cows wouldn’t know what the fuss was in this song, as they’re too placid to suffer from depression.
While watching some butterflies, I couldn’t help wondering if they could be actually trained to dance to the tune of I Wanna Dance with Somebody by Whitney Houston, or Dancing Queen by Abba?
Would peacocks appreciate the sentiments of A Man Is A Man by The Who? The pea-hens could take a few tips from Smooth Operator by Sade, before they reject their attentions. In that case, would the peacocks understand the feelings behind Cry Me A River by Justin Timberlake? But them again, peacocks would start dancing if they heard The Sky Is Crying by Gary Coleman, for they tend to dance just before it really starts to rain. Therefore, Dancing in the Rain would be stupid advice for peacocks, for that’s when they stop dancing. Also, bats and owls will never get the sentiments of You’re my Sunshine by Elizabeth Mitchell, no matter which version is sung to them.
Penguins would understand all too well the lyrics of Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers, specially in the long winters, when they have to guard their eggs. On the other hand, swans would appreciate the sentiments of Saving All My Love For You, since they have just one mate until one of them pass away. In case their life-long partner passed away to swan heaven, would they cry if they heard Where Do Broken Hearts Go, also by Whitney Houston? Would Swans find any consolation if they heard le Cygne by St. Saens.
Do pigeons console each other with songs, serenades, or snazzy stanzas? If only we understood their cooings. But perhaps all baby birds get I Believe I Can Fly by R. Kelly very early in life.
At least a thousand species of animals, birds, and fish would appreciate Sunrise by Norah Jones, hoping for a new dawn for them, when the air and water would be less polluted, or I Will Survive by Gloria Naylor, and many two-legged mammals could help them do so. Is it the End of the Road (Boyz II Men) for many species? Perhaps most species would ask human beings: I Want To Know What Love Is (Mariah Carey), if they could.
As they become extinct one by one, many species would appreciate Remember (Josh Gorban) being sung as they pass away forever from this planet, all because of careless human activity. Possibly the extinct species have found the realm of Somewhere over the Rainbow sung so softly by Kamakawiwoʻole’. Will they somehow resurrect and come back here, if we make earth a paradise for them again? But most animals might agree that Que sera sera. There’s no need to make a song and dance about it.