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Asha Nehemiah's story "Zigzag" revolves around doctor Krishnan's family and a multilingual bird named 'Zigzag'. Dr. Krishnan was a child specialist who ran a clinic that sounded more like an ancient Chinese torture chamber than a children's clinic. The 'Chinese torture chamber' is a windowless, underground room lighted only by a few candles where people are subjected to severe torture.
The phrase 'bloodcurdling yells' does not actually talk about blood coagulation. The term 'bloodcurdling yells' refers to the screams of the children in Dr. Krishnan's clinic who cry out of extreme fear or pain, which might be due to injections or fear of medicine. And the phrase 'ear-splitting sobs' is an exaggeration of how the children's cries are perceived by others. The author used these phrases to describe the sound velocity, implying that it was extremely loud.
In the introduction section, the narrator gives a brief description of the noises at Dr. Krishnan's clinic for a reason. That's why the noise at Dr. Krishnan's clinic led to Dr. Somu's misunderstanding. We will see what that confusion was and who Somu was.
Mrs. Krishnan had received an apology from Dr. Krishnan one evening. Dr. Somu, one of Dr. Krishnan's friends, was set to leave for Alaska (Alaska is the northernmost and westernmost state in the United States). And so, he called Dr. Krishnan during work time to seek his assistance in keeping his pet Zigzag at home until he returned from Alaska. Dr. Krishnan knew it wouldn't be possible to look after Zigzag as Mrs. Krishnan was preoccupied with her painting for a show in a week's time, so he politely refused. However, Dr. Somu misunderstood his reply as 'yes,' and prepared to send his pet to Krishnan's family, which was why Dr. Krishnan apologised to his wife.
When Dr. Krishan apologised to his wife for the miscommunication between him and Dr. Somu, his nine-year-old daughter Maya interrupted and started inquiring about Zigzag, her father, Dr. Krishan. She started by asking him if 'Zigzag' was the name of uncle Somu's favourite, a huge, 'green and gold coloured flying beetle'. She remembered that it would also spit deadly poison into its opponent's eyes.
When Maya was asking her father about her doubt, Arvind interrupted her, stating that she misunderstood the insect, as the insect she was referring to was a fighting beetle, which he corrected, saying the insect she was talking about was 'Spitfire.'
The spitfire is a huge predatory beetle that is found in the Antarctic Tropical Rainforest and is about 4 inches (10 cm) long.
Arvind also suggested that 'Zigzag' must be the name of uncle Somu's pet snake, the African sidewinder. Arvind assumed it was the name of the snake because it would zigzag all the way around Dr. Somu's residence.
African sidewinder.png
African sidewinder
Two points eventually emerge from the conversation between Krishnan's family members. Dr. Somu was a person who was passionate about raising pets. Second, unlike ordinary birds and animals, Dr. Somu kept odd pets.
When Maya and Arvind were trying to figure out what kind of animal or bird Zigzag was, their father, Dr. Krishnan, rushed in to inform them that they were wrong. And there was a reason for his haste. He wanted to put an end to the conversation of Maya and Arvind.
Mrs. Krishnan was shocked by both Maya and Arvind's guesses.
Most people would not want to keep such unusual pets as toxic spitfires or snakes at home, especially if they have children.
Dr. Krishnan was worried that Maya and Arvind's predictions would cause his wife to refuse to allow Zigzag into their home. As a result, he did interrupt his children's conversation and tried to explain to his family that Zigzag, unlike the other pets owned by Dr. Somu, was not poisonous or harmful.
On the contrary, Zigzag was a harmless and lovely pet. Dr. Krishnan further informed them that Zigzag was raised and trained by an African witch doctor. And that witch doctor gave Zigzag to Dr. Somu as a gift for curing his son last month when Dr. Somu was touring the deepest woods of equatorial Africa.
According to Dr. Somu, Zigzag was a rare treasure and would be extremely beneficial. Most importantly, Zigzag was Dr. Somu's favourite of all his pets.
Dr. Krishnan gave a long speech about the positives of Zigzag to persuade his family, particularly Mrs. Krishnan, not to reject it.
Mrs. Krishnan began to speak soon after Dr Krishnan had stopped talking about Zigzag. Mrs. Krishnan was angry with Dr Krishnan and told him that, even though Dr Somu was his best friend, she couldn't tolerate allowing his pets into her home. According to Mrs. Krishnan, most of Dr. Somu's "favourite" possessions (pets) had been an absolute nuisance. And she had a bad experience with his prior pets and gifts. She was furious when the topic of Zigzag came up for discussion in front of the family.
Mrs. Krishnan was a brilliant artist. She was engaged in completing a painting. The title of the painting was Sunset at Marina; she was putting a dab of yellow-ochre paint when the conversation about Zigzag was going on. She paused for a movement to see the impact of the colour in her painting and continued the conversation. They discussed the incidents in Krishnan's home that happened due to Somu's gifts.
Then she recalled the strange insect-eating plant Dr. Somu had bought back from the wettest area of the Amazonian rainforest. He presented it to Dr. Krishnan, saying that the insect-eating plant would eat all the mosquitoes in Krishnan's home. But, Krishnan's family also had to bring a room heater to keep the plant alive during the hot Chennai summers. Most insect-eating plants become dormant in cold weather, and some of them don't come back from it and die, hence room heater was necessary. Mrs. Krishnan emphasised that Somu's insect-eating plant had become a burden rather than a support source.
When Mrs. Krishnan was arguing that Dr. Somu's gifts were real nuisances instead of being helpful, her son Arvind interrupted in between. He contended that what Mrs. Krishnan said was false and that Dr. Somu's presents were all fantastic. Maya agreed with her brother's position and backed Dr. Somu, citing a penknife that Dr. Somu had given to the Krishnan family as an example.
Mrs. Krishnan, on the other hand, did not withdraw her point, and when Maya used the penknife as an example, her argument became much more powerful. In a sarcastic tone, Mrs. Krishnan began to describe what the penknife had done to their family. She sarcastically pointed out that it (the penknife) had cut open the pockets of three skirts and two pairs of trousers to demonstrate how irritating Somu's present was, as the penknife was so sharp due to the fact that it was made out of shark's teeth.
This argument brings out two things.
1. Mrs. Krishnan was not ready to accept Zigzag
2. Other members of Krishnan's family, with the exception of Mrs. Krishnan, were willing to accept the zigzag.
When Mrs. Krishnan finished her sarcastic remark about the penknife, Arvind began to protest once more, citing another gift from Uncle Somu, the 'Boomerang' (A boomerang is a curved piece of wood that serves as a playing tool and returns to you when thrown in the proper manner. It is well-known as a hunting weapon used by some Aboriginal Australians).
Mrs. Krishnan sarcastically said that the 'Boomerang' was a great trouble, while Arvind protested that it was enjoyed by everyone. And Arvind began hurling it with such force that it sliced through all of the TV aerials in the neighbourhood and permanently damaged the cars in the parking lot. It had also knocked Krishnan's watchman down cold.
Three points emerge from Krishnan's family talk.
1. Dr. Somu frequently travels to different regions of the world, and he also gives frequent gifts to Krishnan's family.
2. Dr. Somu's gifts, while given with the intention of assisting Krishnan's family, became a burden at times and caused problems at other times due to the way they were handled. A penknife, for example, should be folded and stored when not in use. Maya was also a child, and it was not appropriate for her to carry it all the time, as it ruined and tore her outfits. A boomerang can be played in a playground or other open area that is free of breakable objects.
3. Mrs. Krishnan was constantly under the impression that Dr. Somu's gifts were causing her a lot of problems.
Dr. Krishnan continued his talk. He reassured his wife that Zigzag was different from Dr. Somu's other gifts because, according to Dr. Somu, Dr. Krishnan's family would love Zigzag. Dr. Krishnan further stated that it can speak and sing in twenty-one different languages, most of which are African languages, and that when it sings, the listeners are moved to tears. Mrs. Krishnan said sarcastically and irritably that there was yet another thoughtless gift from Dr. Somu that could make her cry after hearing what Krishnan had said.
She was also concerned about her time. She was worried that Dr. Somu had dumped such a nuisance (multilingual, talking-singing bird) as she was preparing for her impending painting exhibition.
Mrs. Krishnan did not object to Zigzag's arrival directly, but she did express her displeasure with Dr. Somu's gifts based on her previous bad experiences. Other members of Krishnan's family, on the other hand, were pleased with Somu's gifts and eagerly anticipated the arrival of Zigzag.
When Arvind Krishnan, Dr. Krishnan's son, heard of Zigzag's multilingual singing ability, he asked his father if he could bring the bird to his school as he had something planned. He intended to show Zigzag at his school's science exhibition.'
Krishnan's daughter, Maya, was also excited to know when Zigzag would arrive. She was thrilled with delight to know about Zigzag, the multilingual bird. And Krishnan said that Dr. Somu's old cook, Visu, would bring it to Krishnan's residence. Krishnan was about to leave for his clinic when he heard a doorbell, which he assumed was Visu, Zigzag's companion. Yes, Krishnan was right. Krishnan's guess was confirmed by Visu and Zigzag, who were waiting outside his door.
When Visu gently called upon Zigzag into Krishnan's family, the strangest, weirdest-looking Zigzag shambled for time and got into Dr.Krishnan's house; the entire family had been waiting to see Zigzag save Mrs. Krishnan.
The narrator gives a brief description of Zigzag; it was about \(1.5\) inches tall, with a bald head, and there were some pink feathers on it, like a crown. The rest of its feathers were a muddy, sludgy brown. And, Zigzag had a sunflower-yellow curved beak and its eyes resembled the colour of cola when exposed to the sun.
Mr. Krishnan had already given a brief description of Zigzag. It was Cook Visu's turn, and he started to brief Krishnan's family about Zigzag. Visu rushed to introduce Zigzag to Krishnan's family, saying its full name was Ziggy-Zagga-king-of-the-Tonga and that he was going to miss him since he was leaving him with Krishnan's family. Further, he also informed Krishnan's family that Zigzag could speak beautifully and could even recite poetry in French. However, Zigzag did not seem to respond to any of Visu's compliments. It stood cool like a statue, and its eyes looked drowsy with an irritating human expression.
Krishnan's family made their best efforts to make Zigzag speak, and when it did not work, Arvind ran into the kitchen quickly, returning with a plate filled with juicy fruit slices and some nuts for Zigzag to eat.
Zigzag's bored, drowsy expression had gone as it saw the walnuts Arvind had bought for it, and it took a walnut. Still, it refused to talk and pitifully winked his one wrinkled eye. It swooped down and dropped the nut on the chandelier suspended. A chandelier is a light device that hangs from the ceiling. Its (Zigzag's) mischief had not ended there. It gradually transferred all fruits from the plate to the chandelier and then to the fan blades on the ceiling. Thankfully, the fan was turned off. Zigzag then plunged his beak into plump guava while sitting atop a curtain rod, giving another serious wink with one wizened eyelid.
Maya and Arvind spoke to Zigzag in English, Hindi, Tamil, and French and tried to make Zigzag speak. But Zigzag was so adamant that it would not even speak with them. After observing Zigzag not speaking to anyone around them, Visu tried to soothe Arvind and Maya, asking them not to worry. He assured him that they would have a great time listening to it, provided Zigzag was getting acquainted with the new surroundings.
Like cook Visu told the children, Krishnan's family didn't take long to listen to Zigzag's voice. But, Zigzag did not speak or sing. Instead it began to snore, sleeping on the same curtain rod.
The snoring began as a quiet grumbling sound, then increased to sound like the stomach of a somewhat hungry dinosaur. The snoring sound became louder and louder as if a troop of cold elephants were trumpeting angrily in the room with KNGRRDRRWHEEZE!!!
Soon, Zigzag's snoring hammered Krishnan's family's eardrums, causing them headaches.
Despite everyone's efforts to wake Zigzag, it continued to sleep and snore. Mrs. Krishnan's rage had grown as she made the humorous statement that a bird who was said to speak twenty-one languages had chosen to communicate through snoring (snorish, snorese, snorian, snorihili, snoralusd). Maya, on the other hand, was so sure that she claimed that birds don't snore in general and sought to wake Zigzag up. She used her little water pistol to squirt water on Zigzag in an attempt to wake it up. However, her efforts were fruitless because, instead of waking up Zigzag, she had soaked the drapes, the walls, and a sofa.
Mrs. Krishnan mocked Somu's gift once more, stating satirically that "African witch doctor's birds don't follow scientific laws." She made a sarcastic remark about Zigzag's upbringing. Arvind, too, gave it his all by imitating a rampaging lion, a ravenous hyena, and a vicious dog. He even pretended to be a coyote. A coyote is a North American wild dog that looks similar to a wolf. But nothing worked out since Zigzag's snoring continued uninterrupted.
Maya and Arvind gave up hope of stopping Zigzag from snoring after all of their attempts to rouse him up failed miserably. As a result, they locked themselves in the bedroom farthest from Mrs. Krishnan's studio, where Zigzag was causing the terrible noise.
Lakshmi, Krishnan's maid, arrived at their home as his family members headed into their bedrooms. She had no idea about Zigzag. When Mrs. Krishnan was unwinding a ball of cotton wool to cram in her ears to escape Zigzag's noises, she heard Lakshmi screaming as if she had been electrocuted.
Mrs. Krishnan's family was startled by their maid's scream, and they all ran to the studio, their hearts pounding, to see Lakshmi dancing and clapping her hands joyfully as she said, "We've been blessed! We've been truly blessed!" She also informed them that papayas and bananas were raining in that room. Everyone was taken aback when Lakshmi stated what happened.
Krishnan's family were frozen in dread when Lakshmi told them that papayas and bananas were showering in their home. Zigzag was the cause of the fruit rain. Lakshmi had no idea who Zigzag was or what it had done at Krishnan's residence (transferring fruits and nuts on the fan).
Zigzag had already kept the fruits and nuts that Arvind had given on the fan. So, when Lakshmi turned on the fan, the fruits began to fall down. And Lakshmi, who was unaware of the events following the fruit rain, regarded it as a blessing and was overjoyed.
A guava fell lightly on Lakshmi's cheek, and a walnut struck her in the face, taking a toll on her joy. That wasn't the end of it. Those fruits sprayed all over the house, leaving streaks of sticky orange pulp and sparkling black seeds on Mrs. Krishnan's unfinished painting named 'Sunset at marina'.
Unfortunately, the artwork was, after all, Mrs. Krishnan's masterpiece. Everyone felt helpless in that situation, unable to save such a beautiful painting.
Mrs. Krishnan couldn't afford to have her painting spoiled. She was at the verge of anger that she was ready to even shoot Zigzag. Just then their telephone rang, which saved Zigzag temporarily from Mrs. Krishnan's anger. And the call was from Krishnan's neighbours. And they called one after another to demand an explanation behind the weird, awful sound (kngrrdrrwheeze) which came from Krishnan's house and pleaded for some peace.
Regardless of what was happening, Zigzag continued to sleep and snore unaffected. Finally, Mrs. Krishnan, fed up with the snoring noise in her home, called her husband and explained how Zigzag's snoring and the complaints of her neighbours had driven her crazy. Her voice cracked as she attempted to explain how Zigzag had spoiled her beautiful painting. Also, she told her husband about Mrs. Jhunjhunwala's sarcastic complaint and how Mrs. Krishnan was requested to sing a little softly when she took her singing lessons. Mrs. Jhunjhunwala, an art critic, resided upstairs in the same apartment as Krishnan's family.
Dr. Krishnan went to his house as soon as he heard about those incidents. Before starting, he also sent an email to Dr. Somu, requesting clear instructions to get Zigzag to stop snoring.
When Dr. Krishnan returned to his house, he comforted his family, who had been saddened by Zigzag, that Somu would respond to his email as soon as possible. They'll then know how to stop Zigzag from snoring in a simple way. But, Dr. Somu, on the other hand, did not respond for six days. Mr. Krishan kept checking his email at all hours of the day and night, hoping for Dr. Somu's response on how to stop Zigzag's snoring. Also, those six days of hearing the deafeningly loud KNGRRDRRWHEEZE echo throughout their home sounded painful and nerve-wracking. Maya claimed that she had become accustomed to having a continual rumbling sound in her ears and that her ears ached all the time, even when she was thousands of miles away from home, since she had become accustomed to it.
However, one benefit of Zigzag's snoring was that Arvind began to look forward to coming to school as he felt it was as peaceful as a monastery compared to their home. Aside from that, worse things had happened, such as Mrs. Krishnan losing interest in her painting and, as previously indicated, Maya having the impression of permanently hearing Zigzag's snore..
Zigzag hardly ever woke up except to eat, or to sit on the veranda looking sulky and bored as he gazed at the sunset at Marina Beach. "Marina beach" here refers to the real beach and not Mrs. Krishnan's painting, which was kept in a corner as it was spoiled with the streaks of hardening papaya. Everyone from Krishnan's family tried several times and in several languages, and spoke kindly with Zigzag but it never spoke to anyone. It only slept and snored.

Although over six days had passed, Dr. Somu had not responded to Mr. Krishnan's email regarding Zigzag's snoring. And on the seventh day, he received an email from Dr. Somu containing a simple message. In that email, Dr. Somu mentioned that Zigzag doesn't sleep much and has never heard it snore. Somu also added a P.S. message in the mail to search for Visu's place and advising Krishnan's family to send Zigzag along if things had been hard for them. In this context, the initials P. S. stand for "postscript." A postscript is a note attached to the end of a message.


Mrs. Krishnan began pressuring her husband to look for Visu as soon as she read Somu's response. She was already thinking of chasing Zigzag from their home, and Dr. Somu's response only added fuel to the fire. She didn't even wait for her husband to return from his clinic; instead, she demanded that he take Zigzag with him when he left home. She was adamant about sending Zigzag with her husband right then and there, since she had invited some of her friends and painting experts to select the best paintings by Mrs. Krishnan for her next painting exhibition. As a result, she was concerned that the snoring, feathery monster (Zigzag) would ruin the moment. As a result, Dr. Krishnan had no option but to take Zigzag to him.


As Mrs. Krishnan was so adamant about sending Zigzag out of her house, Dr. Krishnan had no choice but to take Zigzag. He nervously called out Zigzag's name, worried about locating Somu's cook, Visu, and handed over Zigzag to him. He also warned Zigzag not to enter his clinic and wait in his car. When he arrived at his clinic, he was so frightened that his heart began to sink as he imagined Zigzag's ear-shatteringly loud snore mixed with the sound of the kids' screams and shrieks. As the author stated at the story's beginning, Dr. Krishnan's clinic would sound like a Chinese torture chamber. So, with Zigzag's snoring sound and Kids' sound, one can imagine how terrible the scenario would be at Mr. Krishnan's clinic.


Though Dr. Krishnan had suggested that Ziggy-Zagga-King-of-the-Tonga (Zigzag) should stay inside the car, Zigzag did not listen to him. It took off and landed on the nurse's reception table at Krishnan's clinic.


When Dr. Krishnan was ready to enter his clinic room, he warned Zigzag not to sleep because of its snoring. He then proceeded to enter his room. He heard a weird voice that he had never heard before as he walked through the swinging half-door that separated his clinic from the waiting room. And the voice began instructing Mr. Krishnan's young patients, "You there in the blue T-shirt, don't jump on the sofa. And you in the red dress, don't swing on the curtain." It was Zigzag's voice, its commanding voice, that surprised Krishnan. And there was a pin-drop silence in Dr. Krishnan's clinic for the first time.

Everyone in the clinic was taken aback when they heard a bird talking and instructing the children. They were expecting Zigzag's next comment. Zigzag was no longer bored or drowsy. Dr. Krishnan must have answered a long-standing doubt about what Dr. Somu meant when he said, 'Zigzag was an absolute treasure and would be useful to Krishnan.'


Dr. Krishnan was awestruck by Zigzag's efforts. He was delighted with the silence in his clinic. As mentioned earlier, Zigzag no longer looked bored or irritated. It appeared to be more active than it had been at Krishnan's house during non-sleepy hours, when it would just sit on the veranda and watch the sunset at Marina. As Zigzag went about its job, it appeared cheerful and alert, as if it was waiting for that moment. Yes, Zigzag was trained for the same purpose by the African witch. In Dr. Somu's clinic, it did the same thing. Krishnan's home atmosphere differed from that of a clinic, and as a result, it behaved strangely because it was a new environment for it, so it felt drowsy without doing anything. However, when it arrived at Dr. Krishnan's clinic, it did its job and transformed a chaotic sea of tears and tantrums into a calm, orderly environment.
Zigzag did an excellent job of soothing the terrified patients, scolding the misbehaving ones, and making the sobbing ones smile because it had been appropriately trained to manage all types of children. Furthermore, children remained calm because seeing such a strange bird was exciting. In addition to that, Zigzag's yam-digging song and recitation of French poetry moved the children to helpless laughter rather than tears, and Zigzag didn't seem to mind. Zigzag never slept or snored, as Dr. Krishnan had feared.


Dr. Krishnan had never experienced such a peaceful morning in his clinic before. Krishnan was afraid that Zigzag's visit would worsen the tension in his clinic before he entered. It was, however, a 'gift in disguise.' He called Zigzag into his room after attending to all his patients. Zigzag flew in and sat on the table in response. Dr. Krishnan began conversing with Zigzag. He told Zigzag that Somu was correct, because Dr. Krishnan had finally seen why Dr. Somu had praised Zigzag as an absolute treasure and of great assistance. He also questioned Zigzag about why it had not told Krishnan that it preferred to be at the clinic rather than snoring to indicate that it was bored.
Krishan was saddened by losing such a valuable item (Zigzag), as no one in Krishnan's family wanted Zigzag. Krishnan was supposed to leave it with Visu.
People, in general, keep complaining about things in life because they don't know how to take advantage of the positives around them. Instead, we focus on the negative aspects of people and situations around us and blame them. An unfavourable situation might be changed into a positive one if we give them chances or wait patiently. People must also be given opportunities to showcase their abilities.

Mr. Krishnan's phone rang while he was speaking with Zigzag. Mrs. Krishnan had made the call. Her tone of voice was filled with satisfaction. Mrs. Jhunjhunwula, the art critic, was the topic of her first talk. Mrs. Jhunjhunwula noticed Mrs. Krishnan's painting 'sunset at marina' when she went to shortlist Mrs. Krishnan's paintings for her upcoming painting exhibition. She liked the painting and she bought it for \(₹ 5,000\). It was the same picture that Zigzag had spoiled with fruits. Finally, Zigzag's mischievous effort had resulted in a positive outcome.


While telling her husband about what had happened at home, Mrs. Krishnan couldn't stop laughing. Mrs. Krishnan had placed that 'Sunset at Marina' painting down in a corner, thinking it was ruined and useless. Mrs. Jhunjhunwula, who happened to see the artwork, decided to buy it because she thought the spilled fruits were a new technique used by Mrs. Krishnan. Mrs. Jhunjhunwula admired the painting's streaky orangy bits. Mrs. Krishnan's cheerfulness was reflected in her voice. She also informed her husband that their family wasn't being very fair to Zigzag, so she requested if they (Krishnan's family) can have Zigzag at home for another week, just for a trial. This proves Mrs. Krishnan's change of mind. The same person (Mrs. Krishnan) who hated and chased Zigzag out requested her husband to bring it home.

Dr. Krishnan agreed to his wife's request, but he was smart enough to tell her that every morning he would take Zigzag to his clinic. He explained to her that if he took Zigzag to the clinic, Mrs. Krishnan would paint in peace at home. He secretly called Zigzag, 'My boy!' and informed him that everything was fine, handing the bird a toffee from his desk. He also told Zigzag that it had its unusual way of showing his genius, which he called the Zigzag way.
Everyone is born with certain abilities in general, so they will automatically use them when the time comes. People are misunderstood because we don't truly understand them.
As usual, Zigzag did not respond. It didn't seem to care if he was applauded for its work. It simply ate the toffee, paper wrapper and all, then winked with one crinkly eyelid.