Does the growth of the broiler chicken industry help the number of jungle fowl increase? Do civet cats get headaches when the coffee berry season is over? How does one find out if a venomous snake is a Type A personality?
Janaki Lenin addresses all this and more in the second volume of her book My Husband and Other Animals . Drawn from her column for The HinduMetroPlus , the essays combine humour, irreverence, science and history.
If the tragic ‘Why Did Raja Die?’ warns tourists against feeding wild animals, ‘The Poop of the Matter’ is a slightly icky tale of how many animals eat excreta. Just as the reader is settling down for a light-hearted read comes the serious ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ about leaving home and finding new families. This one is a wide-ranging discussion on how different species decide which gender should leave home with inputs from primatologists and behavioural scientists.
The book is not only about animals and animal behaviour. There’s much that is personal as well. Lenin writes about her meeting with herpetologist Rom Whitaker, their marriage, people’s reaction to their 27-year age difference, and getting used to the forests with her customary sangfroid.
The last two essays — about the common Indian krait and the monsoon at Agumbe — are excellent reads. In the first, Lenin keeps the reader hooked by detailing the manner in which the Irulas hunt snakes, the krait’s behaviour, and why it is so dangerous. Her descriptions of Agumbe’s rainforest, how the king cobra’s nest withstood the rain better than human houses and what they learned from radio-tracking the king cobras keep you rivetted.
When you finally close the book, you understand why, in his Introduction, Whitaker compares the collection to the snack we call mixture. Because it has “equal parts of the whimsical, serious, tragic and hilarious.”
My Husband & Other Animals 2: The Wildlife Adventure Continues ; Janaki Lenin, Westland, ₹500.