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MEHRU JAFFER | 25 APRIL, 2016

Bring Back the Wild into Our Backyards!


I once saw a charming film in which two children are shown living in a match box size apartment in Mumbai.

The nine year old and eleven year old sister brother duo try to convince the parents to get the grandmother to visit them from Goa. When their mother snaps that there is no room in the tiny apartment for dadi, the children respond by embarking on an ambitious journey on their own to look up grandmother.

On the way from Mumbai to Goa, the children face many challenges. One evening they find themselves stretched out in the open on a string bed. A midnight blue sky dotted with a million stars is the only roof above their head. The sister turns to the brother and wants to know why there is no sky over their home in Mumbai?

Just imagine the horror of an entire generation growing up without knowing what the sky looks like! Just imagine the horror of several generations growing up without ever having visited a backyard!

That is why Wild in the Backyard, Arefa Tehsin's latest book is a must not just for children but for all of us who have forgotten how to share a home with a house lizard.

For, in the end we can conserve only that we love, we can love only what we understand and we can understand only what we are taught, isn't it?

Wild in the Backyard teaches the reader not to fear a bat as it comes flying towards you only to eat the juicy mosquitoes buzzing over the head. That grasshoppers eat grains, vegetables and other crops but certainly not human beings. If a gecko loses its grip on the wall and falls on you do not worry, they will not bite. House geckos are harmless.

This is not exactly a textbook in fact it is more than one. This is a beautifully illustrated book of 230 pages with 25 tales about our furry, scaly and feathery neighbours burrowing under soft garden grass or roosting on bougainvillea bushes, hunting on the mango tree or fighting on the gulmohars, hiding in the kitchen or dating on walls, dancing around light bulbs or jeering on the porch, silent in one season and chattering in another. The tales amuse, entertain as well as educate.

Did you know for example that when animals and plants share the same living space, it is called an ecosystem?

Did you know that?

If yes, then why do we seem determined to carve out a home only for ourselves on the planet and to drive other living creatures homeless?

To appreciate other living creatures better, the author wants readers to check out their backyard at least and rediscover the lost world of hunters and hunted, the diggers and the tunnellers, raptors and roaches, the eight legged and the legless, with their canines and claws, growls and chirps... The only problem is that maybe there are not too many backyards left amongst readers of books.

But if you are a lucky enough to still have one, a backyard that is then this book is a bible for you.

After going through it you are sure to freak out a little less in the future at the sight of a spider on your sofa.

As for that cockroach in your cupboard...well you will be grateful that you did not find it nibbling left over toothpaste on your toothbrush!

Today when we know more about Batman than bats, the author tells us that a bat is neither hero nor villainess vampire that has unfairly inspired the bloodthirsty character of Dracular. Bats are just bats and natural pest controllers.

A thousand bats can eat four tons of insects every year! They eat one third of their body weight in insects every night! If we didn't have bats we would have insects coming out of our mouths and noses (and not just out of our bathroom drains).

The next time you decide to run away from a room at the sight of a rat remember how they save millions of lives by helping human beings to discover medicines and in increasing our knowledge of surgery. This is because scientists believe that rats share roots with human beings and our thinking is similar to that of rats!

Experiments done on knockout rats help us to understand diseases and to develop possible cures for them. Besides house mice are kept as pets in many parts of the world, so why not in yours?

Now that the book has been read, the hunt is for a backyard.

Any givers?

Wild in the Backyard by Arefa Tehsin is published by Penguin, 2015

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