BLF2020 | The Zoo in My Backyard – Usha Rajagopalan with Tony V Francis

Keshava the Monkey, The Devil Family, and an exciting world of animals made up the conversation for this illuminating session. Usha Rajagopalan is a Bangalore based author who spoke passionately about the contents of her recent book, The Zoo in My Backyard.

Tony Francis interviewed Rajagopalan in this fun session. He began the session by commenting on how this book would make him a better father if his kids read them. He asked Rajagopalan to enlighten the audience about her life.

Rajagopalan had five siblings and belonged to a South Indian joint family. Her father had served in the IFS. He would bring back injured animals home, and Usha and her siblings would wait eagerly for him to return. Every time he came home, he’d surprise them with a new animal. Usha hadn’t realised that her family was unique until her friends pointed it out to her when they recalled seeing her in her backyard with a Black Monkey on their shoulders.

Usha had written this book to thank her father. She used to, initially, write for the Deccan Herald, about trysts she had with the animals she was brought up with. While looking back at her upbringing for her write-ups, it was then that she realised the unique upbringing her father had brought her up in. When Puttenahalli lake, a lake close to Usha’s house, was going extinct, her father’s voice in her head encouraged her to gather people and attempt to save the lake.

Tony Francis asked Usha why her family was called the “Devil Family”. Phantom comics was the inspiration behind this. One of the author’s brothers wanted a pet wolf, and her father instead, brought home a Rajapalayam Hound. She then recalled instances of other engagements with animals that seemed to have given her family the title of the ‘Devil Family’. Once she had gone to a party, where a little girl had yelled out loud to her mother, “Amma look, the devil family has come!”

Usha Rajagopalan then read an excerpt from her book. Her voice was sweet and she used different tones to suit the light-heartedness of her book. Listening to Usha’s narration of her book, Tony Francis marvelled that Usha has the mind of a child. Usha, responded excitedly, saying that she likes going into the world of her characters. Characters like the bear, whom Usha thought was grumpy, and Keshava the monkey help give her novel an anthropomorphic element. Her story-telling humanises the animals she grew up with, making her story more charismatic.

“How do you deal with attachment to pets, especially knowing that they’ll go away from your life eventually?” asked Francis. A lot of families choose to not have pets because of the potential for heartbreak. But as a parent, Usha realised, keeping pets helps gave children a sense of responsibility. We love our parents too, even when we know they’ll not be a part of our life anymore. Having a pet is just like that.

Usha recited another excerpt from her book, that brought our attention to Usha’s personality as a child. She was very argumentative as a child, and the paragraph she reads out brought out this trait of hers. Growing up, she learned a lot of bird calls. She has learnt different styles of “Kooos” to communicate with birds. She read out another excerpt from her book, that highlighted how she learned to communicate with a Cuckoo bird in her backyard.

Usha’s books have received praise from children of age seven to adults who are 80 years of age. Francis called the book a classic, and remarked on its timelessness. The session was quite heart-warming and made one think of their own childhood experiences with pets and animals.

About the Author: Anusha is a final year undergraduate student pursuing English Hons at Christ University. She can usually be found expressing her thoughts in the genres of social concerns and satires, often accompanied with a cup of chai. She currently writes for TheSeer.

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