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Dreaming In Calcutta And Channel Islands

Purva Variyar reviews Shubhobroto Ghosh’s Dreaming In Calcutta and Channel Islands.

Book Details

By Shubhobroto Ghosh;
Published by Power Publishers
Soft cover; 224 pages;
Price: Rs. 320/-

Individual vs. species, zoos vs. no zoos, Western ways vs. Indian and so on. Such intellectual, ethical and emotional conflicts plagued Shamu right through his impressionable years as a child growing up in a traditional and crowded Calcutta (Kolkata) household and as a young adult  when he traveled to England and the quaint Channel island of Jersey to fulfill his dreams of working for animal welfare.

This book is an earnest account of protagonist Shamu’s life growing up, torn between his voracious and curious mind that revolved around the world of animals and his hero Gerald Durrell; and his travails of failing to understand people’s mundane ways, and lack of any inclination towards books and animals, and worse, being expected to fit in. Through the entire account that unfortunately falters at points by either randomly digressing through various issues and unforgivable editorial gaffes; it does manage to hold you by its sheer honesty, simplicity, and sensitivity with which it talks about animals issues.

The author brings to fore the age-old debate on the existence and need of zoos and the plight of captive animals in India and the west. The accounts that Shamu divulges of various zoos that he visits in Northeast India as a part of a voluntary survey he conducts for Born Free foundation is heartbreaking. The extreme apathy extended by governmental bodies such as the Central Zoo Authority of India leaves you with almost no hope. His realisation of how animals in zoos,  uprooted from their natural surroundings, begin to exhibit abnormal, atypical behaviour due to stress, boredom and debilitating frustration is well depicted.

One would think, animal welfare and rights and conservation would go hand in hand, which it should. But, here the author brings up this interesting dilemma of how conservationists tend to put species above the individual animals.

Through the spiritual journey of Shamu, as he understands, loves and empathizes with the animals; resolutely works on his dreams and aspirations and overcomes obstacles, the book encourages you to ponder over ethical issues of wildlife protection. It opens your eyes to the most glaring truths, elusive to most of us who are carried away by propaganda rather than reality.

Reviewed by Purva Variyar

First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, June 2015.


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