They say that animals have a therapeutic effect on humans, and help them live a better, more wholesome life.
For this reason, the Mumbai airport even has ‘therapy dogs’ that help nervous travellers calm down. This and other fascinating trivia makes up this charming little non-fiction book about India’s magical animal kingdom.
Delhi-based travel writer Supriya Sehgal grew up in Dehradun, where she spent her afternoons playing cricket and hide-and-seek, climbing trees, cycling and gardening.
As a child, Sehgal had dogs, cows, cats, birds, pigs and snakes as friends. Further, her travels to various destinations across the country over the past 14 years got her to encounter several interesting creatures as well as passionate animal lovers.
The 30 well-researched true stories in the book have been collected from cities, jungles and rescue missions.
With vivid descriptions of each of these intriguing places complete with their sights, sounds and smells, Sehgal paints pictures with her words.
There are some relatively unknown tales, such as about a vegetarian crocodile who lives in the Ananthapura lake temple pond in northern Karnataka’s Kasargod; hundreds of large, white painted storks and spot-billed pelicans that inhabit trees and rooftops in Kokkare Bellur, near Bengaluru; and an annual kabootarbaazi (pigeon flying) championship in Agra.
The title story is about the most photographed tigress in the world, Machhli, who formidably fought a 14-ft crocodile in a lake. Apparently, Machhli was responsible for contributing over USD 100 million to Ranthambore’s economy for which she received a lifetime achievement award from the Government of India.
Another noteworthy chapter discusses the critical role that khachchars (mules) play as modes for transferring heavy equipment, ammunition and food supplies in the Indian army. One such unsung hero was a mule called Pedongi who was captured and taken along by the Pakistani forces during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Pedongi not only managed to escape the enemy territory, but also found the 20-km trail back home. In 1992, she was deservedly presented with a blue velvet ceremonial rug at the 233 Corps Day function.
The book also highlights some curious religious rites related to animals. For instance, according to a longstanding local superstition in the village of Thokarai in Tamil Nadu, a traditional donkey marriage ceremony is considered auspicious for rain. Miles away in Rajasthan, the Karni Mata Temple in Deshnok is home to over 25,000 furry brown rats. Not too far is the Dattatreya Temple at Kalo Dungar Black Hill in the Rann of Kutch, where exists a ritual of feeding jackals warm cooked rice every evening.
The book also has anecdotes about countless wildlife enthusiasts, such as environmental educationist and researcher Gowri Shankar who has rescued over 350 king cobras and hundreds of other snakes in different parts of the country; Dr Prakash Amte who once had up to 300 injured or orphaned wild animals at his home in Hemalkasa, on the border of Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra; and Abdul from Jodhpur who feeds hundreds of kites daily.
In all, the book is an absolute treat especially for animal buffs, and a great way to educate children—and grown-ups—about our country’s rich and diverse wildlife.