Noted British poet Ruth Padel may be Charles Darwin’s descendant, but her love for nature and wildlife sprang from the work of another author — Kipling’s Jungle Book.
Now with her first novel, Where the Serpent Lives, she has created a jungle book of her own, set in the forests of one of her favourite countries, India.
“Humans have always had a relationship with animals, but today, it’s become a war between us and them,” said Padel (64), who read from her book at the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) on Thursday and will give two more talks in the city this weekend. Padel’s widely anthologised poetry has been largely about mythology, music and sexuality. But for someone who grew up in a family of science-lovers and bird-watchers, the move to writing about animals and nature was waiting to happen. She began with Tigers in Red Weather, travelogues from the tiger reserves across India and Eastern Asia, and last year came out with the acclaimed verse biography of Darwin, her great-great-grandfather.
But with the novel form, Padel has found a way to compel readers to be sensitive to the animal world. “I consciously chose to write from the animal’s point of view, without anthropomorphising them,” said Padel, who admires Jim Corbett’s ability to get into the skin of the tigers he wrote about. “It’s about how you appear in their world.”
Today we appear as a threat, and Padel, a member of BNHS and the Zoological Society of London, hopes the message in her writing will help work towards change. “My next book is about migration, both human and animal, and how they work together.”
(Ruth Padel will read from her work at Jnanapravaha, Fort, on July 24 at 6.30 pm. Her lecture at Prithvi Theatre is on July 26 at 7 pm)