As a young boy I used to read a lot of stories about nature. Two authors were amongst my favourites: Rudyard Kipling, who wrote the The Jungle Book and Jim Corbett, who wrote about tigers. One of Rudyard Kipling’s stories, that was part of my English literature syllabus in school, was Rikki Tikki Tavi, which was the name of the mongoose in the story. While a lot of the other stories in the English syllabus were a bore, I never tired of reading this story.
Since then, the mongoose has been one of my favourite wild creatures. Our house in Dehradun, where I live today, has a small garden. In the garden, we have a small pit in which we dispose off all the wet waste in the house. The garbage pit attracts many birds, and occasionally, a mongoose.
Till about a year ago, there was only a solitary mongoose who would visit the garbage pit. Then, suddenly, for a period of three or four months, the mongoose stopped visiting, and I wondered what had happened to it. One morning, I was standing on the first floor balcony of our house which overlooks the garden. From the bushes near the garbage pit, a pointed snout poked out. It was the mongoose — it was back again! The mongoose ventured on to the garbage pit, stood on its haunches, and looked about. Sensing no danger, the mongoose looked back into the bushes. Soon enough, another snout poked out. Probably the female mongoose which joined the male at the pit. Seconds later, two tiny mongooses emerged — they were now four of them! I immediately realised the reason for the mongoose’s absence. It was busy raising a family!
Thrilled, I watched as the family of mongooses fed on morsels and scraps of food at the garbage pit, knowing fully well they were safe here. After feeding, the mongooses made their way through the garden, stealthily making their way through the bushes. They got to the boundary wall behind the house, and through a small hole in the wall, a few feet above the ground, the male leaped through elegantly. And one by one, the other mongooses followed,
and disappeared into the foliage beyond the boundary wall. Since then, watching the mongoose family, whenever they visit our garden, has given me endless pleasure.
While India is home to numerous species of mongooses, the one seen throughout India is the Grey Mongoose (Herpestes edwardsii). In south India, the mongoose is called keeree, and is well known for its fearless nature and ability to battle venomous snakes like the cobra. The mongoose, which feeds on snakes, uses its speed and agility to prey on snakes, and other smaller wild creatures. Mongooses are still reasonably common in cities with greenery, so do look out for Rikki Tikki Tavi near your home!