Kaustav Das reviews Ranjit Lal’s The Harmony of Bees and Other Charms of Creepy Crawlies (Published by Speaking Tiger, 2023)
“We see them here,
We see them there,
Creepy crawlies everywhere…”
The Harmony of Bees and Other Charms of Creepy Crawlies by Ranjit Lal is an account of the 20 commonly found insects i.e. the creepy crawlies around us. In the first few pages of the book itself, Lal introduces us to the world of crawlies, their species, their life and lifestyles, history, physical appearances, physiological intricacies, their interesting features, and the distinctive task each species commits to maintain harmony in the ecology and the world around us.
Ranjit Lal has crafted some unique and interesting titles for each segment i.e. each crawlies too; like ‘Oh, Honey, Honey’ for Bees, ‘Pretty Airheads or Steely Stunners?’ for Butterflies, or ‘Beetlemania’ for Beetles to ‘Sirens of Death’ for Mosquitoes. These are four titles among the twenty others from the book that contain a detailed study of twenty commonly found insects.
Let’s see what is stored for us!
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Ranjit Lal and the book’s Monarchs
Ants – The book starts by giving us a tour from Ant’s settlement to their mating, their societal structure and specialty to politics and monarchy in the ant kingdom. We get to know that Termites and ants have a monarchy, a poor society where the commoner’s voices are not heard, and democracy is just a word. Between these two, Termites are great architects while the ants are more like soldiers ready to battle in a war with their army or take over a country.
Bugs – they are of no use of human’s help except the fact they were the resin producer; before vinyl replaced Shellac. From polishing wood to nail polish, bugs’ resin has been useful throughout history. They are defensive and can kill humans too.
Flies – the vessels of diseases with a survival mechanism instilled in them.
Pretty Airheads or Steely Stunners?
Next comes Beetles’ characteristics and classifications. We get to know about Dung beetles from their eating habits and profession to historical worshipping. Despite being a necessity in ecology by paving the way for us to live a sustainable life; their fellow clan member, fireflies are slowly decreasing due to human atrocities. From habitat destruction to the use of toxic pesticides, from our own pleasures in caging and watching them to deforestation; these will surely take a toll on the harmony.
Butterflies, the beautiful creatures – one shouldn’t miss the newly minted butterfly that emerged from its Chrysalis. With their birth cycle and beautiful life comes the human’s preying eyes and our atrocities in using them as mementos. Alongside butterflies fellow clan member Moths, the migratory insect whose guide is the light, are the important pollinators around the world. But due to light pollution, the number of moths is slowly decreasing.
Amidst all these, we should now consider the protagonist in this book, the Bees. The most important pollinator, the farmer’s friend, and the honey producer creatures are slowly dying due to human atrocities. The colony collapse is the near future and we are destroying the world killing the bees for our greed. It is high time we should amend things to stop our greed.
The Horrible Houseguests
Cockroaches are great scuba divers, even though they freak out on your partner but for the betterment of society they are important to keep the nitrogen cycle in nature intact.
Spiders – One of the most freaky creatures in the insect world but is a helping hand for the human cause. Lal has described their dates and mating to the usage of their web as silk to make something useful for us or to research the minute pollutants that get trapped in their web.
Centipedes and Millipedes – The first creature to make the transformation from water to land. The crawlies often get hunted by birds.
Snails – The Atlas or the turtle in the insect world that carries their home on their back. An interesting fact about this community is they often come out as queer too, not completely but each season they try to change their sexuality according to their needs.
Sirens of Death
Wasp – The carnivorous and chivalrous insect with the killer instinct shouldn’t be left alone. Even after their killer instinct and deeds, we need to save their habitat from getting uprooted.
Mosquitoes – The pathogen carrier that shaped and still shapes human history. They were the weapons of war in WWII. The import of Malaria to India from Europe was done by them.
Lice, Worms, Leeches – The Trojan horse and the medical fraternity in the insect kingdom.
Ticks and Flies – The agents of Chaos, from the Bubonic Plague to the Plague of Justinian or weapons of war in WWII, they had their eras.
Grasshoppers – From a creator of famine and plagued countries to the farmer’s worst nightmare. They do help humans and farmers after dying by maintaining the nitrogen cycle.
Next on the list is the cannibals, the praying Mantis; the well-guarded and ferocious-looking creature. It’s great that they don’t belong to our family.
Scorpions – The glowing venomous hunter of the dark that used to get devoted in Egypt.
Ranjit Lal has used a poetic way of storytelling often tuned into Eminem’s rap to provide some rhymed raps on the species and asks us to let our curious mind look out for them and their life’s tapestry. Being a photographer and nature connoisseur himself, Lal has photographed these creatures with his own unique storytelling prowess. The collection is humourous to the core which makes it enjoyable for every reader from different age groups.
The book can be read for humorous purposes or to know more about the crawlies around us, but as a whole, it can be a monotonous read going through the same structure of describing these creatures from their history to physiology and the tasks they perform. Being a non-fictional nature book it can help in growing understanding around us but not so many groundbreaking discoveries can be found here that we already don’t know. There is trivia in the end, if one finds the book monotonous one can jump to the part to get a quick overview of some underrated facts about these creatures. Definitely recommended for nature enthusiasts and kids due to Lal’s humorous storytelling.
Favourite Quote by Ranjit Lal
“There are some 400,000 species of just Beetles out there: go on make at least one of them your own! Remember, you can have a ‘lifer’ every day—or maybe even every hour! Beat that!”
Have you read this humorous book on crawlies around us? What do you think of it? Drop a comment below and let us know!