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Invisible creatures

Invisible creatures
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Observing wildlife in the city of Delhi

Sheetal Vyas
August 29 , 2014
01 Min Read
In Bill Watterson’s excellent comic strip, Hobbes once finds Calvin digging, a shovel in hand, and a safari hat on his head. “What have you found?” Hobbes asks, and is given a list: a few dirty rocks, a weird root and some disgusting grubs. “On your first try?” gasps Hobbes and a happy Calvin tells him, “There’s treasure everywhere!” Well, there is, if you know how to look for it, and to know it for treasure when you do find it.

To the average urban dweller, so invisible are the creatures that share our spaces, they might well occupy a parallel world.  Ranjit Lal’s Wild City seeks to open our eyes to nature around us, our immediate surroundings, our own backyards.

A Delhi-centred book for the most part, these essays infect you with an enthusiasm for observing the wildlife of the city. It deals in broad swathes with birds, animals, insects and rambles — tales of owls, vicious wasps, parakeets, dung beetles, nilgais and flamingos; accounts of how Delhi’s lung spaces such as the Ridge Road, and sundry barrages harbour wildlife; and more sombrely, our folly in grasping territory and habitat for meagre gains, while we flush “the Kohinoor down the toilet”. The structure of the book is loose, however, and Lal deviates occasionally to his encounters in the wild, possibly because they were too good to leave out.

In tone, Lal ranges from treating us to amusing anthropomorphic commentary to engrossing lectures on animal anatomy and habits. There is a grouse too: the articles could have been better edited. The author is allowed to use the same phrases over and over again, and repeat his facts, which slightly mar an otherwise delightful read.


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