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“The Law of the Jungle is unforgiving, but also numinously complex. The honeyguide bird leads the badger to the hive so that the strong badger can break open the honey, benefiting the bird and the badger. A boy and an elephant become each other’s keepers. I suppose if these things are possible and permitted, the Law of the Jungle then must have been waiting through the ages for the day that a young girl would become mother to a tiger.”

Inspired by true events, this delightful book is about a young girl in India who rescues a tiger cub and tries desperately to get it to the relatively safe habitat of the jungle. The story begins in a village outside Mangalore, where the 15 year old protagonist, Isha, has been sent to live with her grandparents for the summer. It is here that she encounters the last surviving cub of a Bengal tiger — an encounter that changes her life. The book is a somewhat modern-day retelling of Kipling’s The Jungle Book, where Mowgli is, of course, a girl — the untamable, nature-loving Isha, who is too “wild” for a classroom. With a love for all things forbidden, she is known as “The Saint of Small Things”, and can singlehandedly climb trees, fight village boys and rescue snakes. Animals are more real to her than the people she knows in her life. 

The book is filled with numerous stories and anecdotes about the forest and its amazing animals. It’s a pleasure reading some of the most vivid, picture-perfect descriptions of the splendid beauty of the rolling coffee hills in Chikmagalur and Coorg as well as Kerala’s crystal coast. The awe-inspiring strength of an elephant is illustrated through the story of an old, eleven-foot tall tusker called Ramachandran who is kept in a temple in Kerala. The elephant has killed several people, other elephants, and even a few cows. The book also throws light on the tenuous relationship between tribal people and the Forest department. But most of all, it draws attention to the alarming reality of how so many of our wild animals — particularly tigers — are fast disappearing from the world. 

Naturalist, explorer, author and award-winning wildlife filmmaker Paul Rosolie spent the last decade in the rainforests of India, Brazil, Indonesia and Peru, following wild elephant herds, tracking tigers and documenting the illegal trade in endangered species. He first traveled to India in 2008 on a study program through Ramapo College, when he met his wife, Gowri Varanashi. Subsequently, the couple began working together in their company, Tamandua Expeditions. Rosolie, along with Gowri, went for several jungle adventures and road trips in the stunning forests of south India, where they encountered many of the incredible experiences that lead up to this book. In fact, Thimma’s character in the book has been inspired by a man from a tribal community inside the Nagarhole National Park, who helped Rosolie and his wife explore the forest. Rosolie has also spent time with Adivasi communities who were displaced from their forest homes as well as with communities that still lived in the jungle. 

Someday, I would love to watch a movie adaptation based on this book, which is an absolute treat for all wildlife enthusiasts and lovers of nature!

THE GIRL AND THE TIGER. By Paul Rosolie. Owl Hollow Press, 2019. 342 pages. $15.99. Paperback.

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. You can read all her published work on www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com

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