Title: My Husband and Other Animals 2: The Wildlife Adventure Continues
Author: Janaki Lenin
Price: Rs 499
First, a quick confession: this book has rekindled certain dreams from my girlhood and the next time you hear from me could be through dispatches from a forest somewhere, where I’ll be keeping a beady eye out for a fan-throated lizard or a paradise flycatcher. You see, I grew up in an animal-mad household which weighed the merits of David Attenborough documentaries at the dinner table and which today uses Whatsapp to discuss which bird of paradise has the kookiest mating dance. For my sister and I, growing up to become wildlife researchers or documentary filmmakers were very real career options for many years, and I have no doubt that had I not been eventually seduced by the glamour of a journalist’s life (ha!) I might, at this very moment, have been somewhere in the wild, stalking birds and nursing leech bites.
According to My Husband and Other Animals 2, Janaki Lenin’s follow-up to her riotous 2012 book, I might still have a chance to live out my dream. In one of the pieces collected in this book, ‘The Making of a Snake Expert’, Lenin recounts the story of how Ashok Captain went from being a competitive cyclist to one of India’s best known herpetologists, even having two snakes named after him. No passage in literature has ever lit my heart with as much hope as this one: “Within a decade, Ashok, a nature enthusiast with no formal training became the foremost expert on snake taxonomy in India, and today has two snake species named in his honour.”
By no means is this just a book for the croc-crazed and the bird-brained, and there are as many ways to read this book as there are animals in it. Are you looking for a palate cleanser before you move from a Schopenhauer to a Camus? Try the informative and hilarious ‘Born Addicts’, in which Lenin discusses palm civets, the boozehounds (pardon the oxymoron) of Kingdom Animalia. You might also read ‘The Obsession Effect’ in which we learn that if a human male were to wear the Calvin Klein fragrance called Obsession for Men in the wild, he would definitely attract mates, albeit from a different species. Or, perhaps you need something to humble you with the reminder that human beings don’t always know what’s best? Read ‘Why did Raja Die?’ and ‘Drugging Leopards’, in which Lenin examines the often fatal consequences of even the most well-meaning human interactions with animals. Maybe you want to see animals — and human beings — in an entirely new light? Turn to page 214 to read ‘Fatherly Love’, which shows how, long before bearded hipsters started “wearing” their babies, crocodiles and gharials were competing for the Father of the Year status.
Like in her previous book, the writer frequently uses human beings to foreground her stories, particularly conservationist and herpetologist Romulus Whitaker, the “husband” of the title. We learn a lot more in this book about Lenin herself, as well as her marriage to Whitaker, as she describes what it’s like to be married to someone obsessed with the wild, with warmth and candour. The stars of this book, however, are the assorted cobras, crocodiles, civets, emus, leopards and elephants. This is as it should be; few writers have taken the trouble to write sympathetically about animals and with her wry sense of humour and astute observations, Lenin can draw the reader’s attention to the natural charisma of any animal, regardless of how many legs it has. She doesn’t balk at discussing the trials of life in or close to the wild — ‘Season of Leeches’ is a prime example — but Lenin’s obvious love and respect for the jungle and all its inhabitants leaves a much deeper impression. If this book encourages a few more of us to devote ourselves to the wild, then that can only be a win.