Zoo in the Garden
Fondly remembered as EHA, E.H. Aitken was born at Satara in Maharashtra, where he grew up to be an eloquent writer, illuminating the splendid world of nature, through his works.
He was one of the founding members of the Bombay Natural History Society and his papers were regularly published in the Society’s journals. The author, as compared to his 19th century ‘sportsman naturalist’ companions, spoke a ‘modern’ language of conservation.
Zoo in the Garden is an omnibus of the writer’s famed works, The Tribes of My Frontier and The Common Birds of Bombay. This has been published as a ‘reintroduction’ to his works by literary critic and elephant specialist, Dhriti K. Lahiri Choudhury. A durbar, set in Dustypore, introduces us to ants and bats, crows and bees, spiders and what have you, all members of The Tribes of My Frontier, who we meet individually in the chapters that follow. Ubiquitous, but rarely noticed, all the creatures have been personified for narrow-minded people, who do not think them worthy of notice. Aitken has attributed interesting traits to each of the personified characters, that find themselves vividly described through the sketches and couplets that embellish this work.
At the time of putting together The Common Birds of Bombay the author was not fortunate to have access to suitable images, and so instead sketched in pencil, the birds. The pretty sketches not only make it easy for the reader to visualise but also add to the book. Each chapter is dedicated to different little-known avian species such as the oriole. Aitken has infused interesting natural history facts and the attitude of the city dwellers towards them. He shares with the reader, some encounters he has had with some of these winged wonders. His comments on the appearance and behaviour of some of these birds is particularly interesting to read.
“What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare,” becomes increasingly appropriate, especially for the urbanite, who in the midst of city commotion and stress switches off to the natural notes of nature. This beautifully-illustrated book compels the urban dweller to switch off the idiot box and seek and retreat to remnant green patches in the city. Zoo in the Garden is an exquisite collection of natural history, finely embedded in literature.
Reviewed by Shivani ShahE.H. Aitken, Published by: Permanent Black, Hardcover; Rs. 395/-