Interviews in The Hindu, India, January 2010

The Evolution of Ruth Padel
Staff Reporter

As with her ancestor Charles Darwin, animals are central to her work

British poet Ruth Padel spoke of the need to protect the tiger at her reading in Bangalore on Friday.

BANGALORE: It was an evening that brought science, poetry, religion and faith together — all territories that Charles Darwin may have precariously trodden before he wrote The Origin of Species in 1859.

His great-great-granddaughter Ruth Padel, award-winning poet and writer, read out parts of her book Darwin: A Life in Poems at the Crossword Bookstore at a reading organised by Toto Funds the Arts (TFA) in collaboration with the Association of British Scholars, British Council, here on Friday evening, just as the 150th anniversary of the theory of evolution goes by.

Ms. Padel, in this book, has not only captured chronological snapshots of Darwin’s life through letters and journals, available to us online, but has also dwelt on the lesser known aspects of his life, like his relationship with wife Emma Wedgewood.

In her poems lie a wonderfully crafted biography of the man — and his work she described “as everybody having a stake in” — tinted with humour and written with ease.
Ms. Padel is in the country on a British Council Darwin Now research grant as she completes her novel Where the Serpent Lives, which is set in India. She said she spent much time last month in the Western Ghats with conservation zoologist K. Ullas Karanth. She also read from her memoir Tigers in Red Weather, for which she travelled to India, Nepal, China and Russia, among other countries, studying the status of this endangered species.

She was in conversation with Bangalore-based poet and novelist Anjum Hasan when she said: “Much of the problem is with countries like China wanting to legalise tiger farming, and India is resisting this,” speaking of the need to protect the tiger in its natural habitat.

The audience asked questions about merging poetry and science, in response to which Ms. Padel quoted Dr. Karanth: “Science goes towards the truth, but doesn’t get there.”

January 21st 2010

The Book of Ruth

Ruth Padel tells DEEPIKA ARWIND her poems on her great-great- grandfather, Charles Darwin, and speaks of his personal relationships

CHANGING LANES Ruth Padel can effortlessly channel conservation and science into her poetry
Ruth Padel often gets asked about the themes that she ‘uses’ for her poetry. Her answer follows a certain trajectory, one she has fine-tuned over the years – a mixture of boredom when she hears it for the fiftieth time, surprise, and then her passionate, look-you-in-the-eye response: “You should be able to write poetry about anything.” And it is a statement that Padel has managed to stay true to through the years.

The award-winning poet and writer, also the great-great granddaughter of Charles Darwin, has been in India for the past month on the British Council Darwin Now Grant, researching her novel “Where the Serpent Lives”. Set in the jungles of India and England, the book has taken her close to five years to write, because of the intensive nature of the research that has gone into it. “I’ve edited the book about five times – looking at it through a different lens each time – language, characters and so on,” she says.

“When I was young, I could draw people but couldn’t draw faces,” she says as she talks about finally having to confront that in her book, fleshing out her characters bit by bit — which is a process a little like drawing her character’s faces. But the characters are only one layer of the book she calls an “emotional thriller.” The message of conservation is another one, and a cause that Padel has been writing about for a while now. “My research in India has been very fruitful. I’ve been working with noted conservationist K. Ullas Karanth, and the results of his organisation have been remarkable,” she says.

“In the Western Ghats, they have managed to save a species of bamboo. It shows how conservation efforts can really change something.”
In her previous book, a memoir titled “Tigers in Red Weather”, she narrates her hunt for this endangered species through India, Nepal, China and Russia. “The problems of conservation are quite the same everywhere,” she says. “The tiger can source a lot of money into conservation, and writers can really bring awareness to the subject.”

>But topics of science and conservation don’t just end at her novels. She can effortlessly channel it into her poetry. A case in point is her most acclaimed work “Darwin: A Life in Poems”, a biography in verse of the man she describes as “everybody having a stake in”.

At a reading organised by Toto Funds the Arts and the British Council, Padel enamoured audiences with little known aspects of Darwin’s life through a reading of her poems. “My publishers wanted me to write this book in a short time. Darwin’s letters and journals are available over the internet, but my poems also spoke of his personal relationships,” she says.

The work in “Darwin: A Life in Poems” is a clever mix of Darwin’s humour and her own, and quotes Darwin almost verbatim, and together her insightful interjections, paints a chronologically-complete picture of the man. As 150th year of the theory of evolution goes by, and more interest in his work is raised, her poetry provides an insightful perspective on his life.
“My new set of poems is about the human genome – something I am very fascinated by,” she says.

Padel’s literary career has had many dips too, and she says that having the legacy of Darwin behind her only give her slight edge over others. “Things are getting difficult in the United Kingdom. Newspapers are closing, and the first pages they target are the books and arts pages. Publishing houses are shutting down too,” she says. And in dire times such as these, what does she suggest young writers do? “Keep writing. Poets, in particular have to work harder to get published, but it’s worth the trouble,” she adds.