Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tales From The Wild - a review

As a kid, I spent countless hours devouring the books my parents stocked my library with. I particularly enjoyed science books. Ones on nature were my absolute favourite.

Most of what I read was non-fiction. I never really thought about this until I read Tales From The Wild by the father-daughter duo of Raza and Arefa Tehsin. Yes, we have our Jataka Tales, but these are moral allegories and don't delve deeply into the realm of science. That's why the Tehsins' book caught my attention. Consider it a cross between Gerald Durrel and Jataka tales/Aesop's fables.

It is an admirable effort. The Tehsins tackle real world conservation problems using the wonder of fiction and hard facts of science. Young readers will learn of diclofenac - the chemical that's wiped out tens of thousands of vultures and, in turn, has upset the delicate balance between man and nature.

They will also be introduced to the desperately sad tale of a tiger cub who witnesses the deaths of both his mother and sibling at the hands of poachers. These stories are handled sensitively. Thankfully, they don't ever seem preachy even as they broach important topics many young readers would be unaware of. This is greatly appreciated. Children love to discover. They don't often like being taught.

Not all of the Tehsins' stories are sad. The tale of bat (or is it a boy dreaming of being a bat!) is fun and educational. The story of the two dholes is a good lesson in teamwork and family. The story of the stag in the forest is an important one on self-belief. There's also plenty of science. For example, you'll learn what chemicals are responsible for making a firefly glow and even of the diet of a bear. 

I only wish the authors picked more Indian names for their characters. Monarch - perhaps inspired by the famous painting - is a grand name for a stag. Snarls and Stripes are hyper-cute for tiger cubs. But these tend to jar for an Indian storybook. The biggest let down though, is the shoddy copy-editing. While the language is erudite, typos show up far too often.

What I do appreciate is the authors' deep love for nature that jumps off each page. It is infectious. Raza Tehsin is one of India's better-known naturalists. Ironically, his love for nature began during his youth as he wathced his father go on hunting trips (T.H Tehsin later became a conservationist himself). Arefa, I suspect, played an important role in making the language more accessible to a younger audience.

Mr Tehsin writes in his introduction that today's children spend far too little time in the Great Outdoors. If nothing else, this book will make them want to get out more often and explore. This would be his single-greatest contribution.

Note: Arefa Tehsin, the co-author, approached me three weeks ago to review this book. I agreed on the condition that I buy my own copy, as I was writing in my personal capacity. 

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