Not quite out of the woods: An interview with Ranjit Lal

Writing for children is fun, says Ranjit Lal, because they’re not hopeless cases like the adults   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

A bright yellow cover with 10 Indian Animals You May Never Again See In The Wild in big bold letters caught my attention first. Then the author’s name sent me leaping for the book. This slim volume by Ranjit Lal tells the stories of how these rare animals have come back from the brink of extinction but are not yet out of the woods.

In his introduction, Ranjit writes, “When I started making a list, I found I had more than twenty contenders coming right off the top of my head in less than a minute...” How then did he decide which 10 to feature? “It was difficult,” he replies, “so I went by the animals, which were endangered but not so obscure that no one, especially kids, would have heard about them.” He also knocked out those “perhaps too much in the limelight — like tigers.” And so his final list included the Asiatic Lion, the Great Indian Bustard, the Blackbuck, the Vulture, the Indian Rhino, the Hoolock Gibbon, the Forest Owlet,the Gharial, the Lion-tailed Macaque, and the River Dolphin.

The Write Way
  • I write (when I have something to write!) from around 9.00am to 12.30 pm, nonstop, six days a week. Brains are addled by then! But if the story's on a rolling boil, then writing can continue, with breaks till 7.00 pm!
  • First, I have my characters, then the plot... of course often the characters turn out very different to what I may have outlined. I actually draw out locations — especially when action is involved — so I have a clear idea of what happens.
  • I don’t have a laptop but use a desktop to which I report at 9.00 am sharp. It’s in my bedroom so commuting time between bed and table is two seconds!
  • I am not fussy about ‘disturbances’ etc: if the phone rings, you deal with it, if the bhaajiwalla rings the bell you deal with him...and then get back to work!

This is a book “to inspire action” — as Sayoni Basu of Duckbill, the publisher — puts it, so Ranjit has suggestions for how children can protest against destruction of ecosystems and habitats in the name of development. Which leads me to ask how we can make them aware of these issues without make it boring. “Writing exciting stories around these themes is one way,” he says, “but the trick will lie in not making it too academic or sanctimonious. Also appeal to the sense of natural justice in kids (and adults). You can go to jail for seven years if you accidentally run over a peacock, but it’s all right for the government to kill off an entire rainforest and every living creature in it in the name of development! That’s like the war rationale: as a civilian you can’t kill a person but, during war, you can decimate cities, kids and all. Only in the case of wildlife, they’re not the ones starting the war. We are.”

10 Indian Animals You May Never Again See In The Wild by Ranjit Lal, published by Duckbill

10 Indian Animals You May Never Again See In The Wild by Ranjit Lal, published by Duckbill  

Most of Ranjit books have been for children or Young Adults because “they’re not hopeless cases like the rest of us adults. Also, it’s a lot more fun!” The range of topics he’s written about — Nature and wildlife, female infanticide, dementia, sexual abuse — comes from the subjects that interest him “and to which I react. Many are reactions from newspaper stories (which can be much more terrible): female infanticide, sexual abuse. Then of course, there’s personal experience: my dad had dementia for example.”

Going back to 10 Animals..., the doom and gloom is offset by humour, in typical Ranjit Lal fashion. Like this one about the bustard, which he says lost out “because people were (rightly) afraid that a disastrous spelling error... could easily occur in official documents and that would be globally embarrassing.” And then after describing the capture of a pair of Hoolock Gibbons “... but you can imagine how traumatic it must have been for them – and it’s unlikely that they were given counselling afterwards.”

Given that this is a book about animals that not everyone would be familiar with, there are no illustrations. Sayoni explains that they want “to make children want to find out more on their own. Another reason is that it’s a part of a series and the series design does not include illustrations. It is also the age of the Internet, so visuals are but a click away.”

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2021 11:18:13 AM |

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