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Girish Karnad

By Ruth Padel
Little Brown, 2005, pp. xvi 429, £17.99

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 12 December 2005

Water, moonlight, danger, dream Bronze urn, angled on a tree root: one  Slash of light, then gone. A red moon Seen through clouds, or almost seen.                                  —Ruth Padel: Tiger Drinking at Forest Pool Ruth Padel is a distinguished poet. She is also a classical scholar. And there is a resonance of a dark, ancient  myth in this account  of her pursuit of the Tiger across the globe. In her scholarly book, Whom Gods Destroy, Elements of Greek and Tragic Madness, she remarks:      ‘Madness is inner movement that involves inner damage and loss. Your mind “moves out” of you, out of control. In images surrounding wanderers, the safe person or mind is still, at home, in his  or her right place; the unsafe one is loose, outside, unhoused.  Outside is mad; mad is outside. And dangerous.’       Something of the  same passion, the same madness drives Padel through this book, as she wanders  across strange and dangerous territories, in search of the tiger. But unlike in  most  male  literary narratives of Man and the Animal, where the maniacal  stalking  of the animal climaxes in death—Moby Dick, The Bear, The Old Man and the Sea—Padel is not out on a   hunt.        Padel’s search for  the tiger begins with the need  to overcome  a personal trauma.   When  we get our first glimpse of her  in the book,  she is going through an emotional  break-up. She flees the pain of a heartbreak  and goes off to South India . There, in Kerala, she   finds a new  passion.   But  that stab of pain, that  acute sense of personal betrayal recurs through the  book—drawing together in a sharp pointed focus the vast network of experiences she encounters during the course of this fascinating chase.       As Padel’s search for the tiger spreads wider and  gets more and more frenetic—the animal eludes her in most  places—she almost  takes on the role of a frenzied spirit in search of a phantom love.      But there is nothing vague and evocative  about her writing. The  insatiable curiosity and scientific rigour informing this travelogue  continually remind one that Padel is a descendant of Charles Darwin. The individuals she meets, the landscapes she traverses, the societies she confronts  are recreated with a poet’s eye, but their problems analysed with sympathetic, cold precision.  Ever so often, the poet and the objective  reporter  fuse to provide brilliant pictures like ...

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