Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category


Fighting defanged snakes


Review of The House of a Hundred Stories; Mariam Karim-Ahlawat and illustrations by Ajantha Guhathakurta; Life Positive Books 2016; Rs 195; pp 135

– Shana Susan Ninan

With a very pleasing cover and blurb, a tight plot, and hoards of animals and birds, Mariam Karim-Ahlawat’s The House of A Hundred Stories is my four-year-old son’s current favourite book. Well, it was a review copy for me, but it ended up that my son, who loves animal stories, found it more endearing. Which is a good sign, I think, because kids of all ages will just love this book.

I was reminded of The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi-Hwang, which was narrated from the PoV of Sprout the hen. But this one by Ahlawat has several storytellers. The mongoose, the owl, the rabbit, and others are all narrators, lending different voices and tones as and when the situation calls for. Told mainly from the perspective of Noël Noyla the mongoose, this children’s fable is quite an allegorical one. Once the mongoose leaves the snake charmer’s hold, he comes across several situations in his journey. From fighting defanged snakes for the sake of pleasing humans to understanding his Self, there’s a lot to learn from. There are different languages for each species of animals, much like the segregated human society we live in, ourselves. Philosophical thoughts on identity, freedom, overprotected lives, community, independence, crimes, responsibility and the like are discussed through the animals’ lives here.

In a colonial bungalow close to the Taj Mahal… that’s where this house is. The people living in it barely get a mention, whereas the animals are well-rounded characters, almost always human-like in behaviour. The animals, their kids, and grand kids, all make for a lovely menagerie, much like what the author herself raised as a child.

Ahlawat has written many children’s books and novels, as well as plays and musicals. Currently based in New Delhi, she has been a university lecturer teaching French language and literature, and a columnist. My favourite character from this book is Idiot Frog. Don’t be fooled by his name, no. One of his lines go, “To act boldly in a situation that actually frightens you shows true courage.” He’s full of quips and tales, amassed experience from a life well-lived, meeting all kinds of beings.

In the end, friendship and love are just what we need.





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Rating: 9.0/10 (5 votes cast)

Beetles, cheetahs, hyenas…

Review of The Land of the Setting Sun and other Nature Tales; Arefa and Raza Tehsin; TERI – The Energy and Resources Institute 2014; Rs 225; pp 168

– Shana Susan Ninan

For the first 10 years of my life I grew up on a lush farm, surrounded by animals and greenery. My father used to narrate many stories – real life experiences and hearsays – at bedtime and when we travelled. Probably why I am still a nature lover. So when I read Arefa and Raza Tehsin’s The Land of the Setting Sun and other Nature Tales, I could identify with the characters and the life portrayed in the stories.

As much as they are satirical, the eight tales in the book refreshingly point a finger at the reader, making us stop and think, every few pages or so. Scarab the dung beetle is a typical portrayal of the people in our society who are sidelined – the ones who do all the dirty work but are seldom noticed. ‘The Six Riddles’ highlights the virtue of patience, a quality we must watch and learn from animals. ‘The Nectar of the Angels’ talks about the much-discussed topic of the angels deciding to share honey or nectar with earthlings. ‘The Steeds of Witches’ is a tale I enjoyed reading. I’ve read about and watched jackals very closely; so a story about a member of their family, the hyena was a welcome read.

The owl and its characteristics takes centrestage in ‘The Owl-Man Coin’. ‘Hanu and Sheru’ looks at rivalry and tolerance from a different perceptive. In ‘The Best Kept Secret’, what struck me was nature’s designs and symmetry. Animals, birds, plants and natural formations all have symmetry in them, a mark of their maker. Ending the storytelling in a very unique way, the authors describe the lithe and lovable animal, the Cheetah, in ‘One Thousandth Cheetah’. I liked the way Arefa and Raza have given human emotions and attributes to most of the animal characters in the tales.

The raised golden letters of the book’s title stand out against the silhouette-light colour background of the cover. The black and white sketches in each story is neatly done to reflect the mood of the tale narrated.

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Rating: 9.6/10 (7 votes cast)

Wings to your Dreams

Review of The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly; Sun-Mi-Hwang, Translation by Chi-Young Kim, Illustrations by Nomoco; Penguin USA 2013 (published in Korean in 2000); Rs 299; pp 134

– Shana Susan Ninan

If the English translation had been published two years ago, and I’d read it then, the effect it had on me would have been different. Having experienced birth pangs and then blissfully enjoying motherhood, now I can relate to Sprout the hen much better. The protagonist is an egg-laying hen, cooped up in a box that’s home to her. Laying an egg doesn’t mean that the hen gets to hatch it. Her eggs are taken away by the farmer’s wife, minutes after she laid them, warm and still soft.

Sprout (a name that the hen gave herself) has just one dream – to hatch an egg, to hold the baby dear to her heart. The story is about her will to realise this dream. Her struggles include having to escape the coop, facing the barnyard animals headed by the rooster and guarded by the dog, sleeping on the fringes of the farm almost falling prey to the weasel and finally, accepting the fact that the Baby she hatched isn’t one of her own, or might never look or feel like she does.

Human emotions and egos find life in the animals and birds in the plot. Avarice, hatred, low self-esteem, pride, jealousy, complacency, tolerance, love, grief, sacrifice… and more. Pointing a finger at the authoritarian mindset and system of the country, Hwang reveals much about the nation through the characters in her book. This is the first novel of the author I’m reading, and I hadn’t even heard about her earlier. I was casually ordering books online when this book popped up and reviews called it the South Korean version of Animal Farm. And, in a way, it is. Though more poetic and empathising than Orwell’s work. A little grim at times, and horrifically visual, Hwang’s work reflects Korean society and people.

The illustrations are typical of a person wielding the graceful calligraphy brush. And after Googling the name, yes my instincts were right – Nomoco is a Japanese artist and illustrator. Thoroughly enjoyed the book! A classic worth reading and sharing.


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Rating: 6.5/10 (6 votes cast)

Fancy Buying The World’s Most Expensive Book?

Sotheby’s will be putting John James Audubon’s Birds Of America on sale this December. About 10 years ago, an earlier edition of the book was sold for $8.8million!

It’s a rare copy of the 19th-century book and comes from late Lord Hesketh’s collection. This Wildlife Classic is said to have only 119 complete copies all round the world. Out of this, 108 are owned by museums and libraries.

Birds Of America contains 1,000 life-sized illustrations of over 500 breeds of birds. Wildlife artist John James Audubon journeyed across America. He shot the birds and hung them on wire before painting these life-sized pictures. The book was completed in 12 years. The finished work was taken to Britain by Audubon to be printed and sold to rich patrons.

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Rating: 9.3/10 (4 votes cast)