WHAT AILS THE NORTH EAST?
loan system called kuruk which charges interest rates of up to 10 percent per month. Those who cannot repay have to forfeit their livestock, property and land, and are forced to leave the village.
And then there is growing encroachment from state projects and haphazard resource extractions. Preserving the region’s fragile ecology is now a pressing challenge. Chinai’s survey indicates that states like Nagaland, where land is generally owned by the community, have a better chance of collectively resisting the onslaught. Places like Lad Rymbai in Meghalaya, where land is privately owned, simply could not resist the lure of easy money from coal extraction. This new money from land acquisitions and mineral extraction makes a few people millionaires, but further impoverishes the majority and ravages the land. It exacerbates income inequality, dilutes deeply held values and threatens to tear apart the social fabric. There is warning here for other tribal regions too, including the Zomi areas of the Manipur hills, where land is held in the name of the village chiefs.
An expose of what ails the northeast from the inside, this book also provides words of caution on what is coming from the outside. Urgent questions need to be answered: What mechanisms can ensure community participation in development plans? What are the downsides of tourism promotion? What are the ecological costs of the necessary transition from jhum cultivation to plantations or cash crops? Are call centres and hotel management the only avenues for unemployed youth? The conversation must start now.
JMy Husband & Other Animals 2: The Wildlife Adventure Continues
Westland Books anaki Lenin’s quarter century of adventures with her snake man-husband Rom Whitaker first recorded in My Husband & Other Animals gets better with this sequel. In her trademark irreverent style she recounts tales from the animal world; tales that are unlikely to cross an average mind – animal lover or not. Her stories – most published as newspaper columns – are not always about the four-legged. As Whitaker points out in his introductory note to the book, “In the best tradition of the Indian snack called mixture, this collection has equal parts of the whimsical, serious, tragic, and hilarious.” No surprise then that the book is not structured into neat sections. After reading the first few chapters, one gets used to the candid yet arbitrary portraits of elephants, snakes, tigers or (human) grandmothers - in quick succession. The stories take the reader back to Gerald Durrell’s classic “My Family and Other Animals” – the obvious reference in the title helping a little.
Lenin has had to deal with issues that wouldn’t have crossed Durrell’s mind. Contemporary issues that occupy the mindspace of perhaps solely those living in the Asian subcontinent – such as “why do men rape?” and is it fair to compare such deviant behaviour with animalkind? Not that rape is an alien concept elsewhere in the world, but our routine insensitive handling of such cases makes the violence more brutal. This is also Lenin’s best researched chapter. She turns a tweet by megastar Amitabh Bachchan following the Nirbhaya gang rape case on its head. “Even an animal would not behave so,” Bachchan had tweeted in December 2012. Lenin argues that rape occurs across the animal world from scorpion flies and garter snakes to ducks, geese, bottlenose dolphins and primates. She delves into the psycho-social reasons for committing rape in both the animal and human worlds, wondering if rape is a male sexual strategy to get around a shortage. “The smaller chaps have nothing going for them. Not only don’t they have the physique, but they also don’t have a territory to call their own. No orang female will give them the time of day. So instead of howling, these smaller chaps go prowling for sex,” she writes. Yet only 0.2 per cent of copulations observed in the wild are coerced. Even among male chimps, who are known to be violent, forced sex is infrequent. Lenin badgers Bachchan’s tweet hollow: “So Amitabh Bachchan may be right; there’s no conclusive evidence that animals, other than humans, are sadistic.”
Lenin’s obsession with animal poop is fascinating, disgusting and intriguing all at once -- a fixation Rom warns readers about in the introduction. Her argument on why excreta is important for animals is convincing and she mentions her dog Koko, who loved devouring her own poop due to a mineral deficiency, hatchling iguanas eating their mother’s poop, and rabbits and hares too. Indeed, the list of animals engaging in this behaviour might be too long for those who think only pigs eat poop. She shines the torch on animal life much better than many volumes by experts. Whether it is about snakes and their personalities, about butterflies and lizards or about cats and crocodiles, her first-hand experience with animals – those living with the couple and those they meet on their travels to exotic lands – pack in more facts than the average book on animals. Lenin is also unforgiving in her keenness to condition average beings to perceive the animal world like she does. Sample this: Does the growth of the broiler chicken industry help increase the number of jungle fowl? Do civet cats get headaches when the coffee season is over? How does one find out if a venomous snake is a Type A personality? If the point of sex is procreation, why has evolution not weeded out non-productive sex? Or is same-sex behaviour merely a response to a short supply of one gender?
A few years ago, Lenin wrote, in her 100th column for The Hindu newspaper, of how she was lectured for disrespecting her husband in the title of the column (“My husband and other animals”). Unapologetic, she defends the title saying human beings may think they are superior as they have a culture, a language, and can empathise, but that there is enough proof to show that animals are not inferior. Lenin’s writing is intelligent and endearing and also answers the mother of all questions: Who is more intelligent - dogs or cats? This work is indeed an Indian “mixture” - spicy and tangy – and makes you hungry for Part 3.