BOOKS: The Rainbow & Other Stories
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2000:
The Rainbow & Other Stories by Maneka Gandhi Puffin Books (India ), 1999.
Distributed in the U.S. by the Jiv Daya Committee (1718 E. Jeter Road, Bartonville, TX 76226.)
68 pages, hardcover. Illustrated.
Offered as premium for $30 donation to help the People for Animals street dog project in Bombay; the Jiv Daya Dharma Donkey Sanctuary and Education Center, also in India; and spay/neuter projects by Ahimsa of Texas
As federal minister for social justice and empowerment in India since August 1998, a portfolio which includes oversight of animal welfare, Maneka Gandhi holds the most influential public office attained by any outspoken animal rights advocate.
Before entering politics, Maneka founded People For Animals, the leading animal rights group in India, still run from her home. Before that, she was an investigative reporter and author of several books of children’s stories and nonfiction.
Earlier still, Maneka led a life recalled by one of her fairytales, “Autobiography, Sort Of.”
She was the beautiful bride of Sanjay Gandhi, the son of then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi; bore him a son; and then was widowed at age 21 when Sanjay crashed his private airplane.
By Indian custom Maneka should have lived sadly and quietly ever after in Indira’s house––but though she has never remarried, she would not be sad in memory of the man she loved, who had lived and died for fun, and she would not be quiet about injustice, corruption, and cruelty.
Eventually the now also deceased Indira played the wicked stepmother and pitched Maneka out of the house, with her son, to determinedly make her way alone.
The Rainbow & Other Stories is a bit more complex, however, than it might be as the obvious autobiographical allegory. The allegory seems to be chiefly internal and psychological, and––as she also does in person––Maneka at times appears to lampoon herself as relentlessly as she skewers seeming caricatures of her sister-in-law Sonia, Sonia’s flamboyantly corrupt deceased husband Rajiv, and her various political foes.
Maneka is more ambivalent about Indira, whom by most accounts she admired even as they clashed. Good words are said of the Indira-like character in “Heads and Tales,” who adopts one of the Maneka-like characters––and that apparent incarnation of Maneka is the only one who is not satirized.
Though kindness toward animals is often mentioned as a virtue, only the last story, “The Beginning of the End,” says much about animals. It describes how a foolish ruler sacrifices nature for short-term wealth. He exterminates birds, as Mao tse Tung’s cadres did in China, 1958-1960, with the predictably disastrous outcome.
Many similar eco-fables have been told, and have echoed for decades. Daphne du Maurier wrote The Birds, for instance, while Mao’s bird-purge was still underway, and Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds after reading the 1960 Rachel Carson essay on the effect of pesticides on birds that Carson later expanded into her 1962 bestseller Silent Spring.
The plot and theme were worn, no matter how important, long before Maneka used them.
But to her credit, Maneka does not pardon platitudes––even her own. Describing witches who collect things in “Heads & Tales,” she mentions that, “Perhaps the largest collection was that of handbooks from environmental seminars, but since they all said exactly the same things, the collection had little value.” Bear in mind that this comes from a former environment minister who still has significant environmental responsibilities, and has organized many a seminar.
The Rainbow & Other Stories might best be described as insight into how Maneka thinks of herself: no doubt surprisingly playful and optimistic to those who know her only as a crusader, and have never seen her with her son and her dogs.