Wildlife Reviews

‘Wild and Wilful’ review: Reading nature

Nature chronicles can waver between two schools of writing. Gushing prose about surreal landscapes forms one end of the spectrum. At the opposite corner stand those dirges about the vanishing of species while the world accepts pollution as the inevitable stain in our lungs.

To celebrate nature’s beauty and to also highlight the trauma that we Homo sapiens are inflicting on animals and birds, is a requisite attribute for those who pen about the natural world. To do this with an equitable sense of wonder, grief and balance needs a special skill and Neha Sinha ticks those boxes in her splendid book Wild and Wilfil.

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Stellar cast

In her introduction, Sinha punctures our presumption about owning the globe while merely paying lip-service to animals, birds, insects and marine life. She writes: “A wild animal requires acceptance for what it is, not enslavement for what we want it to be. This is part of the most profound truth of the wild, and the world at large – that we are a part of it, not its owners.”

It is this logic that permeates the book written with flourish and feeling. This is an author, who loves nature, keeps an eye -- a sharp one on policy decisions and a moist one while sighting our distant cousins split by a millennia of evolutionary somersaults. The style is warm, anecdotal and at times reminiscent of Ruskin Bond while also doing a hat-tip to Gabriel Garcia Marquez as evident in a chapter titled ‘Love in the Times of COVID-19’.

Sinha does 11 chapters about animals and birds that blend profiles and pithy observations, joy and irony, and unerringly lets us know what we are doing to the environment. She starts with the leopard and goes all the way to starlings while dwelling upon the tiger, Amur falcon, cobra, elephant and many more in a stellar cast that reveals nature’s breath-taking variety, a trait that is turning feeble as mankind is blinkered to expressways and factories.

Nagas as conservators

She also points out the caste-system even in nature-conservation efforts, about how the tiger holds apex position while a leopard or a butterfly never raises equal angst. “The wildness of the Leopard is a sheath, an armour and a curse,” Sinha writes, and there are many terrific lines that portray the animal in focus. The writer points out how overhead wires pose a threat to the Great Indian Bustard, an endangered bird, and is perceptive about the reverence-abhorrence pattern that defines our equations with monkeys or cobras.

A golf-course that affects the migratory paths of elephants finds a mention and the resultant wall leading to a calf’s death leaves the writer in tears and as a reader you have a lump in your throat. But there is hope too as the Naga tribes discard their hunting instinct and turn conservators for Amur falcons and one member tells her: “The entire flock, together, is writing a message for us. We just need to read it.”

Sinha also reveals the different shades of love as a man, who lost his arm to a crocodile, nurtures the reptiles without regrets. This is a book that would make you peer outside your window, to observe nature with renewed interest and empathy. An author couldn’t have asked for more.

Wild and Wilful; Neha Sinha, HarperCollins India, ₹599.

vijayakumar.kc@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 11:31:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/wild-and-wilful-review-reading-nature/article34106528.ece

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