Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Dog Detective Ranjha

Dog Detective Ranjha

Written by Partap Sharma

Published by Rupa and Co.


First published in 1978, this book (also called 'Top Dog Ranjha' in reprints) is a collection of stories voiced by a rather unusual narrator - a young German Shepherd called Ranjha who is trained by his master to - quite literally - sniff out crime. I discovered the book when I was around eleven and, being crazy about dogs, it became a huge favourite. Sadly, the author never wrote any sequels, though the book did spawn a comic strip for Tinkle magazine that ran for several years.
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I still recall being struck by how different it was from other Indian kidlit at that time. Now talking animals are no novelty in Indian literature, starting with the beasties of the Panchatantra, the various warriors and demigods of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, most beginner level books.... if anything, we can be accused of having way too many of them! Ranjha stood out by being contemporary, realistic and devoid of the moralizing that plagues so much of our books. Like my other favourites,James Herriott and Gerald Durrell, Sharma humanizes his animal characters in a way that is both entertaining and convincing.



We first meet Ranjha as a puppy at Brindia Kennels, vying with his sister for the attention of 'Woof', the interesting young writer who will soon be his owner. Spotting Rajha's potential as a tracker, Woof takes him home and begins training him. Ranjha works at making a place for himself in the new social order around him - Woof, his wife and daughter, the neighbours, the canine patriarch Tughlak who lives next door. Before long, he is solving cases as well, beginning with the rather disturbing "Case of the Sudden Killer". By the end of the book, Ranjha is a famous personality in two towns, has matured into a full grown dog and, most significantly for him - won the respect of his canine peers.


Intelligent and observant, Ranjha is a witty observer of human quirks. " I tell you", he says soon after meeting Woof, "you need patience with human beings." Elsewhere, he remarks that human beings need a lot of training to live with other animals. The book teems with little nuggets of wisdom like these about human behaviour that will have you smiling and grudgingly agreeing as well. I think this is a great way to foster love and respect for animals in children - by looking at human beings not as natural masters, but as one just more , very flawed, species. 'Ranjha's ' dog's -eye -view is gentle and affectionate, yet succeeds in highlighting the casual thoughtlessness people often display in their treatment of other animals.


A great introduction for younger readers to the crime genre, a book dog lovers will enjoy. And while I mark it for readers of eight and above, this is a book with universal appeal - the Imp greatly enjoyed having it read out to her when she was four, and I still dip back into it every now and then. So yes... I know thirty two years have passed -- but can we have that sequel now, Mr Sharma?

3 comments:

sathish said...

" I tell you", he says soon after meeting Woof, "you need patience with human beings."

Ouch! That digs deep,isn't it?

A very nice pick WordJunkie.

Praba said...

WJ, one neat "doggie treat" of a review! :) Seems like you have your mind set on that sequel. That sure speaks for how much the book would have meant to you, growing up. Wish Mr. Sharma gets a chance to stop by here.

Thanks for a neat pointer to a modern classic. Now that you mention, sure recall this modern anthropomorphic character from Tinkle.

"The book teems with little nuggets of wisdom like these about human behaviour that will have you smiling and grudgingly agreeing as well." Nicely put. :)

Vibha said...

You said it all - 'great way to foster love and respect for animals in children - by looking at human beings not as natural masters, but as one just more , very flawed'
Will surely look for this one.

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