What's it like beings married to Ram Whitaker – herpetologist, Wildlife conservationist, and founder of the Madras Snake Park and Madras Crocodile Bank? Janaki Lenin, his wife, tells us, 'There's never a dull moment.'
In this compilation of stories, Janaki – also an animal enthusiast- gives us a peek into the zany and unpredictable world that Rom and she have built together, deep in southern India. They ballet tree-frogs that insist on colonising their house, travel to the wilds of the world pursuing venomous snakes and monster crocodiles, devote precious hours to befriending Gila monsters playing with porcupines, and taming opinionated shrews.
Entertaining playful, and downright amusing, the essays shed light on the kingdoms of beasts and plants. They provide flashes of insight into animal disposition, relate human stories about the world and our place in it, and de-mystify nature's secret code. Most of all, they highlight Rom and Janaki's wide-eyed wonder at sharing this diverse planet with all creatures, large and small.
Janaki Lenin has always had an interest in animals but living with
Rom took it to the stratospheric level. They lived in the Madras
Crocodile Bank for a few years, surrounded by thousands of
crocodiles, snakes, turtles, and lizards. Rom and Janaki made
documentaries about wildlife in wild places for a living.
When they moved to their farm in rural Tamil Nadu, Janaki
thought it would be a perfect retreat after the many arduous
months of filming. Instead, a whole new set of challenges popped
up - from pesky tree frogs and adamant Russell's vipers to a dog-
eating leopard. She thinks she's made her peace with the many
wild creatures who have staked claim to their farm, but who
knows what tomorrow may bring. Rom and Janaki live with four
dogs, a pair of emus, a flock of geese, and a pig. It's her childhood
dream come true.
It seems these days as if people have forgotten their biological
roots or lost interest in animals and plants or been led
astray by modem attention-grabbers, such as celebrities,
computer games and Facebook. The biodiversity of Planet
Earth apparently doesn't matter any more, and this concerns
It's clear that Janaki Lenin feels the same. Trying her
hand at documentary film-making, she defied the television
executives who wanted human personalities to dominate
the screen in programmes about animals. And I am glad
she did, as her rebelliousness gave impetus to her column
in The Hindu, on which this book is based.
This delightful compendium goes a long way to filling
the current gap in popular writing on the subjects of wildlife
and natural history.
Like Gerald Durrell, my late husband and one of her
heroes, Janaki demonstrates a refreshing breadth of interest
in and knowledge of natural history, linking nature to her
spouse, to all human endeavour, to God and the Universe!
The topics with which [anaki enchants her readers are
incredibly diverse and always fascinating. Virgin birth in
reptiles, how to train animals (including husbands),
invasions by tree frogs and egrets, the innocuous-looking,
but pain-inflicting devil nettle and the fabulous makara and
fearsome kirtimukha of Hindu mythology are just a few of
More than this, Janaki, again like Gerald, uses humour,
storytelling and an easy, gentle style to remind us of the
links between humans and the other species on the planet.
It is upon these relationships that civilization rests, although
few admit it or even recognize it today. But think about
it... from domestication of animals and plants, to love of
the land, to inspiration derived from the intricacy, grandeur
and beauty of nature, these connections make us humans
what we are.
If our species is to persist, severing these connections is
not possible, although, given our track record with the
natural world, we seem to be trying hard to do so!
Janaki asks, '... what compels us humans to gobble and
destroy our way through Earth's resources until there is no
tomorrow?' The answer is that we have forgotten how we
became human beings, how we evolved with and depended
upon other species.
Janaki asks, 'Are we hell-bent on sending this unique life-
sustaining planet to Saturn, the haunted house of Hindu
astrology?' At present the appalling answer is certainly yes,
but it doesn't have to be. If we can collectively recall our
evolutionary history, acknowledge our dependence on the
ecosystem functions sustained by biodiversity and behave
as if we believe in it, then Earth ... and we ... will survive.
Children’s Books (475)
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