How Mowgli’s Red Panda Friend Happens To Be An Ambassador Of Soft Power In Reel And Real Life

by Sumati Mehrishi - Feb 16, 2020 04:27 PM +05:30 IST
How Mowgli’s Red Panda Friend Happens To Be An Ambassador Of Soft Power In Reel And Real LifeMowgli and Kichi in Jungle Book animation. 
  • The Red Panda, an endangered species, is a hit both on and off-screen. Not only does it enthrall the Indian audience with its character in Jungle Book, it will soon charm Germany as well after doing the same in an Indian zoo.

Earlier this month, Joel and Shine, a pair of red pandas left the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in Darjeeling — their Himalayan home where they were bred in captivity, for Germany.

According to a report in the Telegraph, they were sent to Germany ‘as part of an exchange programme’. The report adds that under this programme, five takins were brought to Darjeeling from the Tierpark zoo in Germany. The pandas were sent with bamboo leaves they could munch on, and with oodles of love from their Himalayan home.

On Sunday, the All India Radio tweeted that the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in Darjeeling ‘is the only specialized Zoo in India which is recognized for its conservation breeding programmes of Red Panda among other animals. The tweet was meant to encourage travel to the zoological park.

The relevance and contribution of the zoological park in Darjeeling in preserving and protecting the red panda makes it internationally known. The number of red pandas in it is currently said to be 21.

The report mentions:

The shy animal is found in Singalila National Park in Darjeeling district and Neora Valley National Park in Kalimpong district, located about 12,000 feet and 7,200 feet, respectively. Singalila is spread across 90 sq km and Neora Valley, 180 sq km.

It's likely that Indian children and even adults have not been to the Darjeeling zoological park or even seen the red panda. One even doubts if awareness on the animal or its story is part of text books.

AIR's tweet contributes to the much needed igniting of awareness via social networking.

Kichi — the ambassador of friendship and soft power

Interestingly, kids growing up in the 1990s, especially the Hindi speaking lot who are now adults (and hurtling towards middle age), are familiar with the red panda, at least, on the screen.

The credit goes to the enormous love for Mowgli, the sole human hero of the Jungle Book — an animation take on Rudyard Kipling's work with the same name — the genius original work which offers a lifelong quest into lessons into ‘survival of the fittest’, motherhood, co-existence, law, freedom, preservation, abandonment, death, danger, victory, loss and friendship, through the anthropomorphic archetypes.

The cartoon series was popular on Doordarshan during the 1990s and seems to have moved to other pastures later, towards today when children have abundant choice when it comes to animation series. Kichi the baby red panda happens to be one of the sweetest and the most experimental ambassadors of friendship.

There is an episode of the cartoon series Jungle Book which focusses entirely on this red panda baby, its plight and her rescue by Mowgli. The red panda, a shy animal, is an endangered species under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

That the red panda is featured prominently in the story as a ‘durlabh’ (rare and endangered) animal for an audience of children, in the retake of the story, could be a matter of interest to experts dedicated to the animal.

The episode is extremely vital to the story building and character building of Mowgli at this point. He is beginning to come to terms with his hunting skills and his status as a member of the powerful pack. It is amazing how the delicate and tiny baby red panda is projected as the hero in the context where Mowgli's tutoring on jungle rules by Bagheera and Baloo goes on from shades of pastel to orange level.

Jungle ka kaanoon’ is the buzz word — a thing of hard power. In the fictional take, Kichi — the baby red panda — enters the scene in an episode focused on about winning allies and friends and soft power.

They try to pat him into the real assessment of his hunting skills. They try to nudge him into knowing the real threat from Shaerkhan, his wicked tricks, and dodging, which Mowgli seems pretty unprepared, humanly arrogant and ill prepared to face, at this point in the story.

Mowgli's two gurus are concerned about his survival, knowing his limitations as a human. But more than anything else, they are worried about his survival against the predators in the jungle.

Bagheera the blank panther declares: “Tum manushya ke bachche ho, kisee se dushmani mat karna."

This leaves Baloo with another priority in his part of tutoring Mowgli. He wants Mowgli to know the importance of making and having friends in the jungle. Baloo puts a question to Mowgli.

The endangered animal from Himalayas

The episode shows that Kichi has been discovered floating on a piece of wood in the river by one of the carnivores.

Mowgli saves the animal from a greedy predator. Everyone is clueless about the animal, but they are sure that he is not from their part of the jungle and has landed from elsewhere. Just then Bagheera enters the scene and declares, ‘yeh to laal panda hai, bahut durlabh’. He tells Mowgli that the animal is found in the Himalayas.

The few minutes in the beginning of this episode play out the story of Kichi's plight in brief. A hunter is shown to have looped his parents in a rope. The baby panda is terrified, sees his parents being stolen away by the hunter, and while ducking danger, he falls in the river.

The approaching hand of the hunter is a fearsome image after the baby panda is shown have registered. After he gains consciousness, Mowgli extends his hand to hold him, the baby panda responds to it in fright and sobs to his mother and father, who are now separated by him.

To save himself, and to defend, he bites Mowgli on his finger. This angers Mowgli, but soon he learns to defend the weak and solitary baby panda from dangers that are some of his own.

The exchange of soft power between the red panda and the human begins, and it weaves a texture of need-based building of resilience to danger.

The baby panda finds refuge in Mowgli's own lair and friendship. Their journey in emotional and essential interdependence evolves.

The team of workers and officers behind the preservation of the endangered species in the Eastern Himalayas must take out time for watching Kichi in Jungle Book to appreciate the illustrators, the depiction of red panda in animation. They may like to use some of Kichi's adventures in the cartoon series to evolve awareness ideas for involving kids across India.

Sudha Ramen, on whose work in Tamil Nadu Swarajya wrote last year, wrote on Twitter about Project Red Panda.

Four red pandas will be left into the wild in Singalila National Park later this year, as per the Telegraph report. For fans of Mowgli, of Kichi, and the great Jungle Book — Rudyard Kipling's work — this would be indeed a great moment of cheer.

That red panda happens to be a small but vital ambassador of India's soft power in reel and real life should be seen as just a sweet co-incidence. For this author, it is a tribute to Kipling, his childhood, his work and contribution.

Sumati Mehrishi is Senior Editor, Swarajya. She tweets at @sumati_mehrishi 

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