Is it because fish are in the water that we do not see them cry?

Chamathka Devasirie


Two days ago I went to a bank with my friends. While they were making some payments, I sat on a big sofa and read a book. Something right next to where I was sitting caught my attention. It was fish tank. There were seven gold fish and one scavenger. Inside seemed very clean and it was decorated with plastic plants and small ornaments. There is a popular belief that a fish tank has a positive mental impact on humans. Especially in places such as a bank were tasks are long and tedious, and people are generally anxious to get things done quickly. Whoever who decided to have a fish tank in the bank must be still quite proud of himself for being so minute to detail with regards to human psychological wellbeing. It is thought to calm people down! But I hardly saw many people trying to calm themselves by watching the fish, except for one little boy sitting on the other side, who obviously seemed quite fascinated by the fish tank! Enough of talking about the minor functions the ‘fish in the tank’ fulfils in human society. Let’s talk about things within the fish tank!


The fish in this tank I saw were quite ordinary, until I spotted one gold fish with an unusually big belly. I do not know enough about fish to say whether it was pregnant or whether there was something else wrong with it, but I could undoubtedly see that it was in a lot of pain. It would come near the glass on my side occasionally and make a peculiar movement with its mouth as if to say something in desperation, and then continue swimming around the tank in agitation! This goldfish and even the scavenger, would at times chew on the plastic plants! I could not think of the reason why. But I am sure that most of us have heard that animals use things they find from their immediate environment to fulfil their medicinal needs. For example cats chew on kuppamenia plants when they have stomach-aches. What do these fish in the tank have to fulfil such needs? When learning about the social world we talk a lot about how people of different societies utilize environmental resources and traditional methods to fulfil their requirements, recover from ailments, and cope with stress. Are fish some lesser form of beings that they do not have or need to fulfil these basic requirements? Who are we to decide? And how can we wash our hands off after giving them water and the same food everyday, convincing ourselves that the fish have everything they could possibly need? How are we to know? For example, the tank was very clean, but wouldn’t the scavenger have liked it if it was muddy and dirty? How can we possibly create a perfect duplicate of their natural environment in a tank, when we are always preoccupied with human psychology, human stress and human social well being? In this case, simply to reveal stress of humans for a couple of minutes, these fish are doomed to monotonous, unnatural, unpleasantness for their entire life! If we cannot communicate with them (obviously we cannot) and understand their need, it is important to let them be! In their own environment, with their own species and families, and fulfilling their own requirements in their own special ways!

When dealing with human refugees, temporarily or permanently settled in a different country, what a fuss humanitarian workers make about their psychological wellbeing? They talk about the language problems, cultural shocks, destruction of power relations, issues in adapting to the new environments etc. etc. these refugees have to face! If they would only give a fraction of that attention to the fish in the tank! Let me tell you another instance as an example of how we, humans, go wrong in trying to take things into our own hands and change the natural at our own convenience. One day, one of my family friends told me about her fish bowl. The fish that were in the tank had suddenly died for some unknown reason, except for one fish. After sometime this lady’s family had decided to buy some new fish to put into the bowl, since they thought the fish must be feeling lonely. Next time I went to their place she told me that they had bought and put some new fish into the fish bowl, and since that moment it has been like a ‘bicycle race’ inside the fish bowl! The old fish has been chasing after one or the other of the new fish morning and night, round and round the fish bowl! The only remedy to this problem is that we do not try to meddle into matters of Mother Nature and let her children be where they belong, in their natural environment!


No matter how cute they could be and how much mental satisfaction they give us we have no right to remove any living being from their natural environments and bring them home, simply because we cannot ask them for their opinion as to whether they would like it or not. I will now tell you one heartbreaking story, I have heard about ten years ago, about a deer, caged in an iron cage, in order to make the surroundings attractive to the guests of a hotel. This deer was alone in the cage in a far corner of the hotel. What has happened was this deer, after many long days of loneliness, has banged its head on the iron bars of the cage again and again, till it bled and finally died of losing blood. The reasons for this would be something we would never understand, being human, who always has an annoying tendency to call ourselves the most intelligent and the greater beings. We wouldn’t even think that an animal would have the brain capacity to think, feel loneliness and depression and even commit suicide!


It is time we started thinking of us as a mere part of Mother Earth and not as its rulers who could go around changing everything for our own convenience. Using animals, fish and birds for decoration is completely unpardonable and the most inhuman act we could possibly do! We could think we are doing them ‘good’, by giving them food, clean environments and protection from harm and predators. And what a mess we create for them in the process, under this misconception? Can’t it be possible that any living being would want freedom more than any other thing? The freedom to decide on their own needs and their own means to fulfil them. Just because their basic material requirements are fulfilled, are they to consent to be captives of another species for their entire life?.. This topic is open for discussion. We would like to hear about your thoughts and experiences against or for this topic.


Down here all the fish is happy
As off through the waves they roll
The fish on the land ain’t happy
They sad ’cause they in their bowl

We got no troubles
Life is the bubbles
Under the sea

A song from the Disney Movie ‘The Little Mermaid’, 1989.

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  • Tamara  On August 22, 2010 at 11:59 am

    The other day they were showing these robotic fish on TV that looked exactly like real fish. They had not been invented for ornamental purposes, but for some scientific project. So what people can do is to have these kinds of artificial fish in tanks and let the real ones alone. Might not be a bad investment for some mental relaxation!

  • prakash  On September 18, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    It is very interesting how you have related this fish tank example with resettlement of refugees. As you said, if people understand that animals too have their own wants and needs, the obstacles for a sustainnable development of our country can be removed because if they are in a psition to understand the needs of animals it is not a complicated task for them to understand the real needs of people.

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