Monday, August 2, 2010

Unravelling Nature's tangles

In a free-wheeling chat, award-winning poet and scholar Ruth Padel talks to Meena Menon about how her great great grandfather Charles Darwin influenced her outlook, her concern for tigers, her love for India and her first novel.

At 64, fame and age sit lightly on Ruth Padel, elected first woman Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in May 2009, a post from which she resigned later. Charles Darwin's great great granddaughter was in Mumbai recently at the invitation of Phiroza Godrej, the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the PEN All India Centre to read from her first novel Where the Serpent Lives. In an interview, Padel, a Greek tragedy scholar, award-winning poet, musician and excavator, talks about her love for India, Darwin and the relationship between humans and other animals.


In her talk at the BNHS, she went back to Darwin and his use of the word “tangle” to explain the inter-relatedness of life. It is this tangle that she develops in her new novel set in the dense forests of India, London and Devon. “I wanted to launch the book particularly in India because the book is on India. I have already published Tigers in Red Weather, in 2005 in which I went all over Asia and all over the jungles that had tigers as their habitat… the Sunderbans, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sumatra, Russia and China but, of course, India was the centre and I came back to it at the end. Many wonderful Indian biologists taught me — Dr. Ullas Karanth in Karnataka, Valmik Thapar — and I realised that, perhaps, in writing fiction I could reach more people. I think the most essential thing that I am writing about whether in poetry or prose is the relationship between humans and the wild and, when I wrote a book of poems on my great great grandfather Charles Darwin, I realised that his inspiration came from the relation between humans and the rest of nature. This is very different from when I was in China in 2003 for the tigers. I was very shocked because writers there admired Darwin very much, and say he is the symbol of human progress, but I think that is not the right way to think of Darwin, I think of Darwin as somebody who put us in natural relation with the other animals and that is the central message that we should take from him,” she starts off.

Full report here Hindu

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