Walking around with a copy of Janaki Lenin’s My Husband and Other Animals is a great way to start a conversation. An incredulous, “My husband and whaat?”, and in the same vein, “Other animals? Means your husband is one?” and a completely different level of snigger, “Has your husband seen this?”
Oh yes, he has. The husband, who by his own admission, has spent a childhood swotting at the noses of street dogs with a cricket bat, purportedly to keep them from biting him. But bite him they did. Ever since he got those canine teeth dug in, he’s enjoyed a rather tempestuous relationship with dogs — he’s spoiling for a fight with them and they, in turn, are out to get him too. Often, it means swerving the sedan towards the random street dog as a tease; equally malevolently, the dog runs in hot pursuit alongside, snarling and snapping at the car. Quite not the kind of husband Janaki Lenin talks about. The legendary Romulus Whitaker, herpetologist, wildlife conservationist and founder of the Madras Snake Park, is clearly at the other end of the spectrum. Rom Whitaker, as Lenin recounts, is much bitten, not the least by a poisonous water moccasin. And yet, he bears no malice, his enthusiasm for the pursuit of all creatures great and small remains un-waning, and for the rest of us, fascinating.
Living with Rom Whitaker must certainly be interesting. As the book’s introduction says, Janaki has always had an interest in animals, but living with Rom, The Dude, took it to the stratospheric level. “There’s never a dull moment.”