Arefa Tehsin’s presentation of Dr Raza Tehsin’s Steed of the Jungle God on 31st October 2021
Review by Mohini Khot
The session on Dr Raza Tehsin’s Steed of the Jungle God was an entirely pleasurable one. We urban sorts learned many interesting things about jungles and jungle people. Also, it certainly didn’t hurt that the speaker, Dr Tehsin’s daughter Arefa (who has collaborated in writing the book), turned out to be an interesting and engaging storyteller par excellence!
The author of the book is a well known naturalist and wild life preservation crusader. He was known as the Vasco da Gama of the Mewar jungles, Arefa said. He has traversed these sanctuaries on foot and has designed most of the wild life sanctuaries that we have. It is interesting to know that Arefa’s grandfather, a contemporary of Jim Corbett, was also a wild life enthusiast, a big game hunter turned conservationist. Her father used to take her into forests and cages that held leopards, snakes, crocodiles and what have you! It was a strategy to get the young Arefa used to wild creatures and lose her fear of them. She says it worked! She is completely unafraid of nature in even its wildest aspect. She learned to not fear the dark, the wild, and the unknown. When participants expressed their awe and admiration in the chat box, she pointed out that this fearlessness can – and does – have its dangerous side too. Living in Sri Lanka, she sees a lot of snakes and often picks them up, unafraid, but really not knowledgeable enough about their poison quotient.
The book, one of several written by Dr Raza Tehsin, is a collection of jungle myths and superstitions that he came across in the jungle areas of Mewar. Ghosts featured in many of them and Dr Tehsin strove to find rational explanations of the phenomena involved and convince the jungle folk. He never mocked the legends, saying that that they were surely not baseless, but tried to get to the bottom of them. It makes for amazing reading to discover the reality of the phenomena that the tribals had clearly not comprehended and had called them supernatural happenings.
The sounds of the movement of the machinery of a well which were repeatedly heard at dead of night gave rise to the legend of a haunted well. It turned out to be a pair of Indian horned owls who are adept at mimicking sounds! Arefa’s grandfather gave his sons a very rational upbringing, equipping them to approach strange phenomena with a scientific attitude. The “living witch”, they realized, was no such thing. These and many other stories of “ghosts” and paranormal activity are the stuff of which Arefa’s talk was made up. Do you want to hear more? Read the book!
Arefa also told us of the abject poverty of the tribals who lived in and around the jungles. They came from far and wide to consult her father who was also a practising doctor. The 3 major problems were malaria, diarrhea and guinea worm.
It was wonderful hearing about a life of forest explorations, jungle animals and the lifestyle of tribal people – areas in which our knowledge tends to be close to non-existent. The personalities of Arefa’s father, her grandfather and of Arefa herself came across vividly as fearless explorers… and engaging storytellers.
An evening well spent – an armchair guide to forests and forest lore.
- Mohini Khot