As someone who has never been drawn to reading non-fiction personally, I think the idea of a collection of true stories about Indian animals is still something that is intriguing enough to make me want to pick up the book. Supriya Sehgal doesn’t disappoint.
An easy to understand style, an almost conversational banter between the author and the reader, draws you in to the many different fascinating stories that populate this book. Animals and their relationship with humans forms the fulcrum of almost every story and it is heartening to read about everyday people who care for animals, who go out of their way to help animals in distress, who try to make the lives of our furred and four-legged fellow creatures easier. These stories are inspiring and never enter the didactic category even when the author is warning us of some wrong practices that are harmful for animals.
There are numerous heart-warming stories here and it is hard to choose a favourite. All of them have an extra element, something that makes you go back to the story and wonder why it made you smile. Whether it was the story about Dr. Mathur who makes prosthetics for animals, or the myths surrounding the chill-inducing monitor lizard, or Gowri Shankar’s efforts to make snakes less feared, each of these have something special about them.
The author’s profession as a travel writer has taken her to a number of interesting places in various locations in India that normally one would not get to go to. The stories she has gathered from these places, specifically to do with animals, have a wholesome appeal about them. I loved reading about the Jackals of Kalo Dungar in the Rann of Kutch that she describes so vividly that I could picture myself to be there. Or the description of the road that leads to Mehrangarh Fort in ‘A Feast for Kites’ is charming, especially as one reads about the many street dogs who follow Abdul Latif Kureshi to the fort where he feeds hundreds of kites every single day.
There are also stories that talk about the not-so-good relationship between humans and animals. In ‘Wildlife SOS’, she tells us about Kartick Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani who set up the rescue and rehabilitation organization to help animals. There are stories about wrongful breeding (‘Life of a Tigon’) and flying birds for sport or kabootarbaazi (‘The Sport in the Sky’) which tell us about the harm that humans cause to animals, either out of ignorance or just malice.
There are also amusing stories such as donkeys being married off to ensure rain (‘A Monsoon Wedding’) or the vegetarian crocodile which will keep you smiling much after you have finished reading the stories. The titular story of Machhli is also fascinating as is the somewhat sadder story of ‘The Tiger Boy’. There are plenty of stories about dogs here and the author writes about them with such fondness that it will make you want to reach out to the nearest stray and give them a pat on the head.
What I also enjoyed about the book was the sidebars in every story that offered more information about either the animal or the sanctuary or just a nugget of history that was connected to the story. The author’s tone is consistent and is perfectly suited for anyone who wants to talk to children and actually make them listen. There’s never a boring moment and as the author herself says in the introduction, ‘If you love animals, are endlessly entertained by their antics, and find them funny, sweet and outright ridiculous sometimes, this book is for you. And if you’re scared of them or not very sure you like them, well, this book is also for you.’
Andaleeb Wajid is a Bangalore based writer who has been writing books for adults, young adults and children for the past ten years. She has recently published a romance novel called A Sweet Deal, published by Fingerprint.