“Sumana Roy has put together an eclectic selection which she writes expresses the uneasy relationship between Indians and their animals – not just domestic ones but the animals of the forest as well.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
The title signals bestiaries and Latin compendiums so that the subhead ‘the finest animal stories in India literature’ comes as a slight shock.
From the cover and its yellow eyed tiger the expectations aroused are old world and certainly the stories span and century or more beginning with Kipling and ending with Ruskin Bond, two bookends of English origin for the entire collection.
Sumana Roy has put together an eclectic selection which she writes expresses the uneasy relationship between Indians and their animals – not just domestic ones but the animals of the forest as well.
This underscores what Lockwood Kipling once wrote in a foreword to his The Elephant in the Temple which attempted to do much the same thing as Animalia Indica cover tales of man and beast in India. His theory matches Roy’s – that the Indian’s relationship with animals is an uneasy one.
Domestic animals may or may not be tolerated – the story of Mahesh is sad since it puts self before animal needs as people are wont to do in times of crisis and highlights the hypocrisy of the priest who will not help a Muslim despite much ranting about the fact that the buffalo is sacred.
There is also the mahout in Kanishk Tharoor’s Elephant at Sea who calmly abandons his charge without a trace as their journey’s end draws near.
Some of the stories chosen are well known and have passed into school textbooks like RK Narayan’s tale of cross purposes and George Orwell’s Shooting the Elephant. And of course, there are issues about who looks at snakes in what light, whether as a holy symbol or a sudden death strike.
The collection will offer something new for animal lovers because of the translations which have been added allowing access to hitherto un-encountered worlds.
Added 13th August 2019