BOOKS: Mad Dogs & an Englishwoman

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2001:

Mad Dogs & An Englishwoman by Crystal Rogers
Penguin (c/o, 2000. 192 pages,
paperback. 250 rupees + postage/handling.

At least twice, at ages 17 and 89, the late Crystal Rogers
started to write her autobiography. Her second attempt incorporated
the surviving part of the first, but Rogers usually kept too busy to
write much. She died in 1996 at age 90 without having completed much
more of Mad Dogs & An Englishwoman than the first chapter; a memoir
of her brief World War II relationship with a Canadian airman named
Jim, who was killed in action; and a few vignettes of the early
years of the three humane societies that she helped to found in
India, loosely directed by seances with Jim.

Friends pulled Rogers’ fragments of autobiography together
four years after her death. It introduces a remarkable woman and her
accomplishments, but falls well short of telling the whole story.
For example, before beginning her long career in humane work,
Rogers assisted the South African author Alan Paton in rallying
opposition to apartheid. This gets only a sentence. Founding The
Animals’ Friend magazine and shelter in Mehrauli, near Delhi, gets
several brief chapters; founding Help In Suffering in Jaipur
receives a few notes in passing; and Rogers’ role in helping to
start Compassion Unlimited Plus Action in Bangalore is barely
Rogers profiled a few of the odd characters she encountered
who were of no particular historical note, but wrote frustratingly
little about those who mattered. Here and there appear, among
others, the names of Captain V. Sundaram and family, who founded
The Blue Cross of India in Chennai at about the same time Rogers
began The Animals’ Friend; Christine Townend, the Australian
poet/activist who succeeded Rogers at Help In Suffering and built it
into one of the strongest humane societies in India; Suparna
Ganguly, Rogers’ protector in her final years, who has put her life
into building CUPA; and Maneka Gandhi, founder of People for
Animals and longtime parliamentarian. Rogers acknowledged and
thanked them for their contributions, yet–though she was profoundly
influential in the lives of many of them– said nothing further.
Neither did Rogers delve at all into the unique historical
antecedents of humane work in India, in the pro-animal teachings and
practices of the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religions, the
3,000-year-old history of animal sheltering in India, and the
statement in the Indian constitution that it is every citizen’s duty
to prevent animal suffering, inserted by Jawaharal Nehru in
remembrance of his mentor Mohandas Gandhi.
Thus there is much room left for any future biographers and
chroniclers of the Indian animal welfare movement to analyze and
describe the irony that Rogers, an Englishwoman who came to India
more-or-less by accident after British rule had ended, became as
influential as she did in building institutions to remind Indians of
the obligations toward animals which are acknowledged in the Indian
culture more than in the culture of any other nation.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.