by Stanwell Fletcher
I was curious to read this book because I enjoyed Driftwood Valley, which I believe was by this author\’s wife. (However if so, he must have remarried because in Pattern of the Tiger, his wife\’s name is Peggy not Theodora). I hoped this one had a lot about the wildlife of India, but I was disappointed in that regard. The author\’s original intention was to re-visit India and see how much it had changed since his childhood there, and to make a rough survey of its wildlife in order to recommend future expeditions to collect mammal specimens for American museums. Fletcher arrived in India not long after the British government had withdrawn its sovereign rule, and he found it in turmoil. There was a lot of political unrest and in many places he felt uneasy staying for long. He travelled through many different regions, especially following suggestions by locals as to where he could view wildlife, stopped in many small isolated villages, visited some areas of neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan, went through Delhi, Kashmir, etc. and ended up in Calcutta. By far he enjoyed his time in the remote areas more than the crowded cities, and I think his wife (who joined him at the end of the trip) agreed. He quickly found that it was difficult to locate any wildlife- and the few glimpses did not produce any satisfactory descriptive writing. It\’s obvious he became far more interested in the situation of the people, and he relates many stories and legends told to him, describing local customs, modes of dress, new foods, interesting individuals he met, travel mishaps and the like for all the areas he went through. He especially compared the culture of Hindus and Muslims- which I learned quite a bit from, even though it isn\’t what I intended to read the book for! I admit when the chapters veered into politics I tended to loose interest and start scanning pages. I was surprised to read about a small area comprising the valleys of Birir, Bhumberat and Rumber, where the Kalosh people lived- Fletcher said they had absolutely no religion or belief system, yet were the happiest (in spite of being very poor) and friendliest people he met on his journeys.
Well, there were a few parts about animals, I will share a few tidbits. He noticed immediately the large numbers of monkeys that swarmed the cities, and learned that they devastated crops on a regular basis, because the Hindus would not kill the monkeys. Amusingly, when a misunderstanding led officials to believe that Fletcher\’s purpose in India was to skin and study mice, people started bringing him cages full of mice they had trapped in their homes. They would not kill the mice themselves (often trapped and relocated them, to no avail) but were happy to hand them over to Fletcher for disposal.
One time sitting outside a house, he saw two yellow-throated martens watching him. He quickly tried to grab his camera, but of course the martens disappeared. Incidentally, the book is graced by many careful illustrations the author made of various people in traditional clothing. I wish he had included more drawings, or some of many photographs he mentions in the text.
I was pleased when I found he wished to meet Jim Corbett, but the famous tiger hunter was absent. Noted that another man who accompanied Fletcher and tried to show him tigers from a jeep, completely scorned the method of tying out a goat as bait to bring a tiger near, which was often Corbett\’s method.
It was rather funny -and probably frustrating- how many times people misunderstood his intentions at being in India, and assumed he was someone important, just because he was a foreigner. He was once cross-examined by a group of tribesman under suspicion of being a spy. On another occasion a general insisted he give an impromptu lecture to his men- something not at all on Fletcher\’s itinerary! but he had to comply. On yet another occasion he was intensely questioned on international politics by the leaders of a community who wanted to know why foreign aid went to India and not Pakistan, and in a final instance he was requested to advise a small town how to rid themselves of rats- which were eating the roots of young trees and crops, destroying them.
I\’ve said a lot here for a book it turns out I didn\’t really care for, overall. It\’s certainly dense with information and interesting descriptions, just not the kind of read that usually holds my interest. It\’s full of recent (to the time) history, politics and local customs. I\’m sure a very worthwhile read, to someone else!
Rating: 2/5 296 pages, 1954