Author Usha Rajagopalan looks back at her childhood in the company of animals in ‘The Zoo in My Backyard’

Usha Rajagopalan reminisces about her family and their assortment of wild animals as pets while growing up in Thiruvananthapuram in the book

October 16, 2020 03:32 pm | Updated October 31, 2020 10:36 am IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Usha Rajagopalan

Usha Rajagopalan


Animals took centre-stage in Usha Rajagopalan's childhood in Thiruvananthapuram. Perhaps, not a surprise as her father, AS Ananthasubramaniam, was a Conservator of Forests, and the Thiruvananthapuram zoo was akin to a second home for her while growing up.

In her autobiographical book The Zoo in My Backyard , Usha paints a humour-laced picture of her youth at her home in the heart of the city. "I grew up with all those animals and birds (mentioned in the book). Whenever my father came across orphaned or injured animals, essentially cubs, during his trips, he would bring them home. We would look after them until they recuperate before handing them over to the Thiruvananthapuram zoo," says Usha from Bengaluru, where she is settled.

Conceived along the lines of noted late British naturalist and conservationist Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals , the foreword for The Zoo in My Backyard is in fact penned by Lee Durrell. In The Zoo in my Backyard , a host of quirky characters in Usha's household, all going by their nicknames just as they were addressed to in real life, go about their lives with an assortment of wild animals and birds for pets. We see the antics of Kesavan the black monkey, Judie the squirrel, Psitta the parakeet, a dog named Devil, the dog called Tommynathan and so on. There is harmony as well as light-hearted pandemonium in the menagerie of a house. There is the usual human domestic chores as well as a sense of commune that blurs the man-animal divide.

Cover page of ‘The Zoo in My Backyard’

Cover page of ‘The Zoo in My Backyard’


Usha says that as a child she rather felt this domestic setting rather normal. "We did not really think this as special until some friend or the other would come up and say 'oh I saw you with a black monkey on your shoulder the other day'", she says with a chuckle. It is not just the close members of her family that are integral characters in the comic episodes but also other such as the cook, the maid, the driver have their voice.

Her father passed away in 2006 and Usha wanted to pay homage to him. The first part, titled 'Creatures, Great and Small' with 26 chapters is essentially a compilation of a fortnightly newspaper column that ran for a year till 2008. "I reworked the pieces for the book. The second section, 'Creatures, Human', which focus on the members of my joint family then, was written this year," explains Usha, a translator and lake conservationist. The first section is interspersed with black-and-white minimalist sketches done by Usha's daughter's friend, Teamea Costa.

Usha says what she intends to convey through her work is the importance of growing up with some animals or birds or the other. "So that you are not completely detached from nature. On the other hand, the world over, many species of animals and birds are becoming extinct. Sadly, wildlife conservation is going down," she adds.

The Zoo in My Backyard is published by Manipal Universal Press

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