New Delhi [India], November 10: A legend in the arena of wildlife conservation and affectionately hailed as the 'Snakeman of India', Romulus Whitaker has had a lifelong love affair with the environment and the 'fierce creatures' who share the planet with us. The story of his life is colourful, lively and rambunctious.
When his mother married Kamaladevi Chattopadhayaya's son and moved to Mumbai, Whitaker was transplanted from a conventional childhood in the US to--what was for him--the exciting world of India. From the beginning, he was fascinated by India, humans as well as animals. Sent to boarding school in Kodai, he kept a pet python in a tin trunk under his bed and realized, from an early age that all he really wanted to do was to work with snakes. Sent to the US for college, reuniting with his own father, Whitaker soon realized that he preferred snakes to lecture halls and left to work in a Florida snake farm. His adventures are hair-raising, and often hilarious.
Whitaker's encounters with people and snakes in India, the US and on his voyages are related with a vividness and humour which recall Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals. A major theme in the book is his transformation from a hunter to protector. Superbly written, fast paced and a veritable page-turner, this first volume of his fascinating memoir will appeal to a wide readership. It brings the India of the 1950s and the US of the '60s to life. It is the story of a boy who would become one of the greatest conservationists of his generation, discovering the wonders of India's extraordinary natural world.
"I'm getting better at telling stories and bragging self-deprecatingly in my old age. Friends have been bugging me to put my tales into a book and thanks to HarperCollins and Janaki Lenin, it is finally happening. In this, the first volume of my memoirs, I am divulging how my snake obsession began very early, how I moved to India and spent more time hunting than at school, and my pivotal experience of working at the largest snake venom lab in the world, the Miami Serpentarium. On this journey, I circled the world as a merchant seaman, hitchhiked across America hunting snakes and was drafted into the US Army to set up a blood banking operation in Japan during the Vietnam War. Looking back at my adventures, all I can do is shake my head in disbelief. Welcome to my world."
"Rom is unflappable even in a crisis, which makes him seem sensible and cool-headed. But don't let that fool you. The man is bonkers about snakes and will do anything in the pursuit of his passion. This book is the evidence. I sometimes have a hard time separating my mundane reality from his exciting one. As anyone who has listened to his stories will attest, Rom is a great raconteur, and I can't wait to see how this attempt to capture the essence of his experiences is received by readers."
"I have been fascinated by Rom Whitaker, the charismatic 'snakeman of India', for most of my adult life; as a forever fan of Gerald Durrell, Rom's was a story I really wanted to read. Well, I and so many others who find animals fascinating and love a rollicking real-life tale, have a treat waiting for us: the first volume of Rom's unputdownable memoir, Snakes, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll, will publish in January 2024. What a life story it is, and how wonderfully Rom and Janaki Lenin have told it! I can't imagine a better way of spending a January weekend than curling up with this book and letting one's imagination soar as Rom and Janaki recount one incredible escapade after another. We at HarperCollins are thrilled to be able to bring this very special memoir to readers."
--Udayan Mitra, Executive Publisher, HarperCollins.
"Snakes, Drugs and Rock 'n'Roll brings together, quite brilliantly, real-life adventure and inner transformation, placing the memoir firmly in the best tradition of bildungsroman, the likes of which aren't written often enough. The fact that this is just the first volume -- the beginning, really -- of a life as rich and exciting as Rom Whitaker's makes it a tantalising read, precisely because it hints at all the fun that is yet to be had. We, at HarperCollins, are immensely proud to bring this vibrant, entertaining book, one that encapsulates the origins of one of the greatest conservationists of our time, to our readers."
--Swati Chopra, Associate Publisher, HarperCollins.
About the authors:
Romulus Earl Whitaker III (b. 1943) is unquestionably one of the best-known figures in the wildlife conservation scene in India. He is famous for establishing the Madras Snake Park, the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, the Andaman and Nicobar Environmental Team, as well as his work conserving India's rain forests--the habitat of so many endangered species. Internationally, he has received the Rolex Award for Enterprise as well as the Whitley Award for his contribution to nature conservation, and in 2018 he was awarded the Padma Shri. Whitaker has co-authored Snakes of India: The Field Guide with Ashok Captain which is considered the definitive work on the subject.
Janaki Lenin writes about wildlife and conservation and the intermingling of human and animal destinies. She was a columnist for The Hindu and is the author of the two-volume My Husband and Other Animals and Every Creature has a Story.
Whitaker and Lenin live in Karnataka.
About HarperCollins India:
HarperCollins is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, having begun publishing in India in 1992. HarperCollins India publishes some of the finest writers from the Indian subcontinent and around the world, publishing approximately 200 new books every year, with a print and digital catalogue of more than 2,000 titles across 10 imprints. Its authors have won almost every major literary award, including the Man Booker Prize, JCB Prize, DSC Prize, New India Foundation Award, Atta Galatta Prize, Shakti Bhatt Prize, Gourmand Cookbook Award, Publishing Next Award, Tata Literature Live! Award, Gaja Capital Business Book Prize, BICW Award, Sushila Devi Award, Sahitya Akademi Award and Crossword Book Award. HarperCollins India has won the Publisher of the Year Award multiple times at Tata Literature Live! and at Publishing Next. HarperCollins India is a subsidiary of HarperCollins Publishers.
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