In my parents’ home, there is a large black and white photograph on the wall. Over the last 20 years, there have been many homes, and many walls, but this photograph has been a constant. What is so special about this photo you ask? Well, two things – it has a very special story and it was taken by a very special person.
The photo is taken in the Nilgiri forests of South India and captures in its frame a herd of elephants. At first glance, it seems to be just a nice wildlife photograph of pachyderms in the forest. Now let me share with you the special part and tell you the story, one that my father has narrated to me more times than I can count.
There are a number of elephants – big ones, ones with long trunks, ones with floppy ears and most importantly, a little one. The elephants are walking through the forest, and have come across a giant log that is blocking their path. Some who are big enough, walk majestically over the log, while others who can’t, take the longer path around. They all continue with their walk. Well, all of them except our little friend, whom I like to call ‘the little elephant who could’. As captured in the photo, he tries and tries to cross the log, with no success. All the elephants wonder why he is not taking the easy way out and plodding around. Finally, after many slips and slides and falls, the little elephant succeeds! He climbs over the log and marches triumphantly on.
Like I said before, this photograph was giftedand this story was told to my father by a very special person. His name was M Krishnan, and he had thousands of stories just like the one of ‘the little elephant who could’, that he had seen with his own eyes. If you asked me who Krishnan was, it would be difficult to answer, because he was so very many things. Krishnan was a photographer, he was an artist, he was a writer, a poet, but most significantly he was a lover of nature. Krishnan was born more than a 100 years ago, and spent a large part of his life wandering India’s forests, observing the birds and beasts who made their homes there, photographing them, and writing about his times in these forests. Being the lover of words and wildlife that he was, about 25 years ago, Krishnan wrote a collection of poems as birthday presents for his granddaughter Asha.
The years passed and Asha decided she had to share these poems with animal lovers everywhere, and so she published them in a book titled ‘Book of Beasts: An A to Z Rhyming Bestiary’. If you want to learn about animals and birds, or you like to read poems, then the Book of Beasts is meant for you! Through this set of poems, Krishnan spells out the alphabet with an A to Z of wonderful and weird animals and birds.
As we turn through the pages, we see strange faces like the Eland, a kind of African antelope who resembles a cow, and familiar faces, like our favorite big cat – the tiger. Krishnan writes about animals from near and far, there are poems on Dingos from Australia and pythons from India alike. These poems are filled with fun facts, jokes and Krishnan’s memories. The Book of Beasts is a treasure trove of information, and is so important to those of us who care about the conservation of nature and wildlife. Of the 24 animals and birds that Krishnan has written about in this book, today 11 or almost half of them are threatened or endangered in the wild. If after going through pages with Binturongs and Okapis, if you want to read about still stranger critters, no fear, because the Book of Beasts ends with the mysterious creature XYZ!
I’ll leave you with a little verse inspired by this book:
If you want to meet an independent Kangaroo,
Or stumble upon a sullen Gnu,
If you wish to learn about the Hispid Hare,
Or the Sloth Bear-oh-so rare.
Then let your eyes and ears feast, On the fantastic book of beasts.
Do you have wildlife poems that you’ve written? We’d love to read them and publish some in our next issue. Do share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Story: Ramya Tirumalai
Illustrations: M Krishnan (reproduced with permission from Duckbill)
Photograph: M Krishnan