No strangers in the wild: Janaki Lenin on her latest book, Every Creature Has a Story

Chimpanzees mourn the demise of a beloved one, rodents practise monogamy — all traits which can be much like us, people. As I speak to Janaki Lenin about her latest ebook, Every Creature Has a Story, I be taught extra fascinating parallels. I’m catching up with the creator two years after the launch of her second ebook, My Husband & Other Animals 2, and he or she tells me the new one is a spin-off, although “my husband [Rom Whitaker, wildlife conservationist and founder of the Madras Snake Park] doesn’t feature in it. The style is completely different too, as there is a certain formality to the language as I draw from scientific journals.” The compilation of 50 essays (picked from over a 100 written for The Wire in 2015) delve into the many distinctive behavioural patterns discovered in the wild.

The human-animal connection

The essays began taking form when she completed My Husband & Other Animals 2 and commenced searching for one thing new to write down on. A chunk she did on creatures who depart their natal properties bought her exploring the science of animal behaviour. “As a child I was traumatised by the idea of leaving my parental home when I got married. I found it unfair, and it had a huge impact on me,” says Lenin, 50, who embarked on a “great big research safari, looking at so many different animal species, primarily those closely related to humans”.

The discoveries have been lots: from elephants being resistant to most cancers and crops that secrete juices to keep at bay predators to illness immunity in bees. “[The human] civilisation is not as unique as we think. The more urbanised we get, the more alienated we feel from our fauna relatives, which leads to all sorts of dysfunctions, such as thinking that humans are superior and animals have a right to life only if they are of some use to us.”

She is fast to make clear, nevertheless, that whereas she engages with scientific research, she is vital and perceives them as an outsider. “It is like a two-way conversation I am having with scientists and there is an indirect pressure from the reader that drives me to ask questions,” says Lenin, who doesn’t have a science background and admits she needed to “push the boundaries of my own limitations”.

A group of gelada (bleeding-heart monkey) babies

A bunch of gelada (bleeding-heart monkey) infants  
| Photo Credit:
Kalyan Varma

Discoveries in the wild

As somebody who “hated science in school”, Lenin believes that if somebody had taken the hassle to clarify the topic like a story, she would have been in science right now, and even analysis. Who wouldn’t need to discover findings reminiscent of birds that ignite fires? “This is an amazing story that emerged from Australia. Aboriginal communities have reported of birds [they call them firehawks] that pick up embers and carry them to an area to start a fire [so that they can feed on the insects and small animals feeling the blaze].” Other intriguing learnings, from the numerous scientific journals she sifted by, embody how giraffes adapt to their lengthy necks — which might present insights into the remedy of cardiovascular points and hypertension in people.

The “underestimated” world of crops has bought its due, too. The essay, Plants with Private Armies (the just one on flora in the ebook), seems at how, when in misery, a number of species secrete sugary liquids to draw ants. “Everyone imagines plants to be helpless things, but they fight back in different ways that we don’t see. If a tree is hurt, it signals others in its vicinity with a smell — something almost animal-like. Curry leaves have that distinct flavour [as a defence mechanism] because they don’t want to be eaten,” she says.

A pair of giraffes

Lessons out of your balcony

Based on her observations throughout the lockdown, Lenin says individuals on social media talked a lot about watching nature from their balconies. “The crisis has paused their lives and they are now observing birds visiting, new flowers and even spiders.” She believes this could possibly be a starting of forging a new bond with nature. “People say paying attention to nature is like meditating. I don’t meditate but I get my inner peace from nature. I hope people carry forward this connection with nature in the new normal,” she concludes.

Published by HarperCollins India, Every Creature Has a Story releases on July 27 and is priced at ₹599. It is offered for pre-order on

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